A Tale of Two Conservative Legal Scholars
Why did Michael Luttig stand up for democracy while John Eastman tried to burn it to the ground?
Thursday Night Alert: We’re going to try something different this week on Thursday night. Instead of a livestream, I’ll do a live chat where you guys can ask me anything. Mostly this is because Substack, our publishing platform, has a new chat feature that I want to try. But also because you almost broke me when we tried doing the AMA in the comments.
Here are some technical details on how it will (I think) work: you’ll get an email from Substack saying “New message from Jonathan V. Last” with a link to the live chat when I start up the AMA thread. You can access the chat session via a desktop browser or you can use the Substack mobile app. 1 If you click on that footnote <== you’ll find all the details.
So the deal is: I’ll put the chat live on Thursday afternoon. You’ll get an alert email and then you can start dropping questions in for me whenever you want. At 8pm in the east, I’ll log on and start answering and—in theory—we’ll all be live together like we would be in the Zoom comments.
If it’s a disaster, we’ll never do it again.
1. Luttig and Eastman
If you haven’t yet, please listen to Charlie’s interview with Judge Michael Luttig from yesterday. It’s an extraordinary conversation.
My key takeaways:
Luttig is a sober-minded intellectual.
His clear-eyed assessment of the danger on January 6 is a stinging rebuke to the entire class of “it was just a clownshow; no reason to worry about it” excuse makers.2
When it came time to choose between his country and his party, Luttig didn’t equivocate and has not since relented.
Luttig’s cold-blooded reasoning makes it clear that the people with “Trump Derangement Syndrome” are the Republicans like Hugh Hewitt.
We came much closer to the abyss than most people understand.
There were two enormous threats on January 6. The obvious one was the physical assault on the Capitol by Trump supporters seeking to murder the vice president and prevent the execution of the electoral vote count.
As serious as that threat was, the threat instigated by the president and many conservative lawyers against the legal machinery of democracy was even more significant.
Again: Go listen to Charlie’s entire conversation with Luttig, who is both careful and candid.
And once you’re done with that, I want you to read this piece in the Washington Monthly about John Eastman.
2. A Lawyer’s Progress
The Washington Monthly piece is written by Garrett Epps, a liberal legal scholar who was, prior to January 6, friendly with John Eastman.
Epps is trying to understand what happened to Eastman—how a guy respected as a sharp conservative legal mind could suddenly morph into a maniac trying to plant a bomb in the heart of the Constitution.
Epps called Eastman and asked to speak with him about the piece he was writing. Here’s what happened:
I reached out to Eastman for an interview, and to my surprise, he accepted gladly. When we spoke on the phone, he was exactly as I remembered—charming, voluble, seemingly candid, eager to engage in debates over legal theory. There was no hint that I was talking to a man brought to bay by some very powerful forces and facing the full shaming power of the Twitterverse; indeed, the conversation was more like a skull session one might have with a colleague in the faculty lounge. In no way did he admit, or seem to feel, that he had done anything wrong, or, except in the most general way, fire back against his accusers.
That’s hard to process. It would be easier to imagine that Eastman had some sort of intellectual breakdown—that he’d done a dance and morphed from mild-mannered Arthur Fleck into the Joker.
But that doesn’t seem to be the case. What happened is more insidious.