Trump’s attempted coup against the United States continues. We are now in phase three.

Phase one was his refusal to concede the loss of the 2020 election and his big lie that the election was “stolen” from him, without any basis in fact.

Trump’s actions in phase one were not illegal, but they were immoral. They violated the norms that every president before Trump had dutifully followed.

Phase two was his plot to overturn the result of the 2020 election.

Phase two was hatched even before election day. On 31 October 2020, Trump’s confidant Steve Bannon told associates that Trump planned to declare that he won and claim Joe Biden’s expected victory fraudulent. Audio footage recently available shows that two days before the election, Trump’s lieutenant Roger Stone was already planning for alternative slates of electors.

Then came Trump’s efforts to strong-arm election officials in swing states to alter votes, persuade the vice-president Mike Pence to reject the certification of electors, get the justice department to find fraud in the election process, come up with slates of fake electors, persuade Republican members of Congress to reject the certification, defame and intimidate poll workers and invite supporters to Washington on the day of the certification – which led inexorably to the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol on 6 January 2021.

Phase two was illegal. It violated both statutory laws and the U.S. Constitution. Trump is only now starting to be held accountable for these violations, in federal court in Washington and in state court in Georgia.

Phase three is his current attempt to discredit and undermine the criminal justice system that is seeking to hold him accountable for phase two.

Trump is smearing presiding judges, excoriating prosecutors and harassing and intimidating potential witnesses and jurors.

He’s telling another big lie: that prosecutors, grand juries, judges, potential jurors and witnesses who are prepared to try him are corrupt and partisan – engaged in a plot to prevent him from being re-elected. Like his original big lie, this one has no basis in fact.

Trump’s efforts in phase three are illegal. By publicly threatening people who are or will soon be participating in his trials, he is violating the explicit terms of his release pending trial, which prohibited him from engaging in harassment or intimidation.

In seeking to silence or intimidate judges, prosecutors, potential jurors and witnesses, Trump is attempting to obstruct justice.

Whether Trump is held accountable for phase three of his attempted coup will be up to the judges and prosecutors now engaged in trying to hold him accountable for phase two.

Which brings us to what is likely to be phase four of his attempted coup – his campaign for re-election.

As his trials approach in the months ahead, Trump is likely to escalate his lies that the election system and the criminal justice system are both rigged against him, and therefore, against his supporters.

It is too early to know what additional illegal or unconstitutional means he will employ in phase four, but there is no reason to believe Trump will treat the upcoming election any more respectfully than he treated the 2020 election or has treated efforts to hold him accountable for what he did then.

Notwithstanding Trump’s ongoing attempted coup, the most recent New York Times/Siena poll shows Trump in a dead heat with Biden for the presidency. Last week’s Quinnipiac poll also shows Trump and Biden in a virtual tie.

Polls are fallible, of course, and the election is 15 months away. But the closeness of the race should be of concern, especially given that Trump has now been indicted for seeking to overturn the 2020 election.

Trump’s attempted coup continues. Since before the 2020 election, he has been engaged in a concerted attempt to undermine the institutions of the U.S. government.

Everyone who cares about American democracy should be prepared for phase four.

Robert Reich

Seth Wenig (AP), Evan Vucci (AP), and Jacquelyn Martin (AP)

Originally published on

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