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Anatomy of a tweet: The behind-the-scenes story of how retired federal judge Michael Luttig used Twitter to try to stop an insurrection

<i>Joe Perry/AP</i><br/>Retired federal judge Michael Luttig used Twitter to help former Vice President Mike Pence defy then-President Donald Trump. Luttig is seen here in this 2016 file photo in Florence
Joe Perry/AP
Retired federal judge Michael Luttig used Twitter to help former Vice President Mike Pence defy then-President Donald Trump. Luttig is seen here in this 2016 file photo in Florence

By Jamie Gangel and Jeremy Herb, CNN

Retired federal judge Michael Luttig never expected to jump into the heated fight over the certification of the 2020 presidential election. And he certainly never imagined he would end up using Twitter to help former Vice President Mike Pence defy then-President Donald Trump.

But on the night of January 4, while at his home in Colorado, Luttig got a call from an old friend, Richard Cullen, Pence’s personal lawyer. Cullen had a simple request:

“Tell me about John Eastman,” Cullen said.

Eastman, one of Luttig’s former law clerks, had just been part of an Oval Office meeting with Trump to try to pressure Pence to overturn the election. Eastman had also written a now-famous point-by-point memo that outlined an outlandish legal argument justifying how Pence had no obligation to certify the election for Joe Biden.

“I instantly understood the significance of the moment,” Luttig said in recounting the call to CNN. He confirmed to CNN that he testified to the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack in November about his conversations and role in the lead up to that day.

He added: “I understood that this was a signal moment in history. And that I was to play some role, if for no other reason than by virtue of the fact that my former law clerk was advising the President and vice president that we do not have to accept the Electoral College vote.”

Luttig told Cullen that Eastman was wrong. “I said, ‘Well, you know, there’s no question that the vice president has no choice as a constitutional matter.'”

“Well, I figured that that’s what you thought,” Cullen said.

The two eventually hung up but early the next morning, January 5, Cullen called back. This time, there was an urgency to his voice. Pence was supposed to meet with Trump, and Cullen wanted to make sure the vice president was armed with his own legal argument. And who better to overrule Eastman than his former boss.

“I don’t really remember his exact words. But the gist of it was, ‘Is there anything you can do to help and support the vice president?'” Luttig recounted Cullen asking.

Luttig was willing to help but wasn’t sure what he could do.

“I just drew a blank,” Luttig said. “First I didn’t even know what he meant. But importantly, he didn’t know either.”

The question of what could be done ignited a series of frantic calls back and forth between the two old friends that morning. Cullen told Luttig he’d call back in five or 10 minutes. When he did, as Luttig was finishing his cup of coffee, Cullen asked if he’d thought of anything.

“And I said, ‘No, I really haven’t,'” Luttig recalled.

Cullen told him time was important and that he’d call back in another five minutes. After a few more back-and-forth calls, Luttig finally told Cullen that he’d just set up a Twitter account a few weeks earlier. There was just one problem, Luttig told Cullen: “I don’t know how to tweet. And I don’t know how to tweet a thread, I think is what you call it.”

Cullen told Luttig a tweet would be perfect, but Luttig was still hesitant. Not only was he unsure of how to actually do it, he wanted to be assured that Pence was on board.

Five minutes later, Cullen called back again and said Pence would be fine with whatever Luttig tweeted.

“I relented and said, ‘OK Richard, I don’t like this, doing something that is at a national level, on behalf of the vice president of the United States, when he doesn’t even know what I’m going to say,'” Luttig recounted. “And Richard says, ‘I understand, but we need to do this. Let’s get it done.'”

Luttig set about typing out what he wanted to say. Not only did he want to get the words exactly right, he also had to figure out how to create a Twitter thread.

“All my technology is, in these moments is pretty hilarious in retrospect, because I didn’t know how to do any of this.”

Looking back, Luttig laughed at how long it took him to craft the series of tweets that morning.

“And so I’m sitting there, Richard’s kind of going crazy, saying… ‘Have you done this yet? Have you done this yet?’

And I said, ‘I’m trying.'”

A self-professed Twitter novice, Luttig had sent his first tweet just a few weeks earlier and had enlisted his son to help him figure out how to use the platform.

“After that first tweet, I had gotten my son who is a tech guy. And I said, ‘Listen, just tell me how to do this.’ You know how kids are these days. So he wasn’t going to bother wasting his time teaching me how to do this, so he just sent me Twitter’s official instructions or whatever you call it, on how do a tweet thread.”

Luttig had saved the instructions on the home screen of his computer and that morning carefully followed the steps on how to craft a thread. Even with the clock ticking, he took his time to make sure he got it just right.

Luttig first typed out his statement in a Word document, then counted out the number of characters and cut and pasted them into seven precise threads.

“I’m a perfectionist. So I went over that, maybe five or 10 times on Twitter, before I pushed the button,” Luttig recalled. “Getting it exactly the way I wanted it, making sure there were no typos. And then, finally, push the button.

At precisely 9:53 a.m. EST on January 5, Luttig tweeted out his statement that the Constitution gave Pence no powers to reject electors and overturn the election as Trump was demanding.

The next day, January 6, Pence cited Luttig’s tweets in his letter explaining why he would certify the election. Pence wrote, “More recently, as the former US Court of Appeals Judge J. Michael Luttig observed, ‘[t]he only responsibility and power of the Vice President under the Constitution is to faithfully count the Electoral College votes as they have been cast,’ adding ‘[t]he Constitution does not empower the Vice President to alter in any way the votes that have been cast, either by rejecting certain votes or otherwise.'”

Luttig had no idea that Pence had seen his tweet, or was going to quote him, until Pence released his statement.

The next day, on January 7, Luttig got another phone call. This time it was from Pence himself. According to a source familiar with the call, Pence thanked Luttig for the tweets and the role he’d played. It was the first time the two men had ever spoken. To this day, they have never met in person.

“(Pence) knew what he was doing,” said Luttig. “I was the one person in America who could come over the top of everybody concerned and give the vice president the support that he wanted and needed.”

More than a year later, Luttig remains active on Twitter and confirmed to CNN that he still keeps the Twitter thread instructions on the home screen of his computer.

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