Donald Trump schemed to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (R) with Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark (C) to overturn November’s Presidential election

In his final weeks in the White House, and just before his instigation of an attack on the US Capitol, Donald Trump had another plot to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the November Presidential election: fire the Acting Attorney General and have his replacement proclaim electoral fraud.

The scheme was blocked when the Justice Department’s top officials threatened to resign en masse earlier this month.

But before then, Trump would threaten Georgia’s Republican leaders in a phone call and enlist Pennsylvania State legislators in his effort.

The Beginning

On December 14, Attorney General William Barr submitted his letter of resignation, effective December 23.

Barr had been Trump’s essential protector inside the Executive Branch since January 2019. Rather than serving as an impartial head of the Justice Department, he had tried to bury the Mueller Report on Trump-Russia links. He sought to shield Trump during the Ukraine scandal, impeachment, and trial. And he promised investigations of US agencies for supposed efforts to undermine the Trump campaign and Administration.

But after the election, Trump asked Barr to support his claims of “millions” of fraudulent mail-in ballots, through the announcement of an inquiry. This time the Attorney General refused, incurring Trump’s wrath.

At the start of December, Barr said the Justice Department had uncovered no evidence of fraud that would change the outcome of the election. Trump erupted, “He hasn’t done anything. He hasn’t looked for [fraud].”

Trump’s Protector Barr Quits

On the same day that Barr submitted his resignation, the Electoral College formally confirmed President-elect Joe Biden’s victory by 306-232. The vote appeared to end Trump’s efforts to block Biden, including failed attempts to have several state legislators intervene to appoint Trump electors and the ultimate loss of 62 of 63 lawsuits.

But Trump had one more path: have the election declared illegitimate before the new Congress convened on January 6 to certify the results.

Attorney General Rosen Rebuffs Trump

Trump immediately asked Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to take the step that Barr had refused. On December 15, the day after Barr’s resignation letter, he summoned Rosen to the Oval Office.

Trump demanded that the Justice Department file legal briefs in support of the lawsuits — repeatedly rejected by State and Federal judges as frivolous, ill-conceived, and void of evidence — brought by attorneys for him and his allies.

He asked Rosen to investigate the wild conspiracy theory, put forth by Trump’s lawyer Sidney Powell, that the voting machines firm Dominion had switched millions of votes to Biden.

Powell’s unsupported declaration was of a scheme including the late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, China, Cuba, “Antifa”, Biden, and Democratic leaders of major US cities and states. The fantasy was too much even for Trump’s main attorney Rudy Giuliani and Trump’s closest advisors: Powell was dismissed from the legal team the following week.

But now Trump was recycling the conspiracy theory.

See also Trump Team Ditches Lawyer Sidney Powell
Biden Confirmed as Georgia Winner as “Totally Irresponsible” Trump Team Launches All-Out Effort to Overturn Election

Rosen held to the line taken by his predecessor: there was no substantial evidence of voter fraud. He would make decisions based on the facts and the law.

Trump considered to badger Rosen in meetings and phone calls. He said that the Justice Department was not fighting for him, with the “proof” that it had not found the evidence backing up the conspiracy theories.

Meanwhile, Trump was insisting that the Justice Department file a case in the Supreme Court to throw out the election results.

A “former Administration official” said, “He wanted us, the United States, to sue one or more of the states directly in the Supreme Court.” The official added that “the pressure got really intense” after a lawsuit filed by the Texas Attorney General was dismissed unanimously by the nine Court justices on December 11.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin joined Rosen in opposing the move. They noted that the Justice Department had no standing to file a case directly with the Court.

Enter Jeffrey Clark

So Trump turned to another possibility: Jeffrey Clark, the head of the Justice Department’s acting head of the civil division since September 2020 and head of the environmental and natural resources division.

Introduced by Pennsylvania State Rep. Scott Perry to Trump after the election, Clark said he fully agreed that fraud had affected the outcome.

Inside the Justice Department, Clark was telling Rosen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue that his assessment was based on a lot of time reading on the Internet. He said that he wanted the Department to hold a news conference announcing an investigation of fraud.

Rosen and Donoghue rejected the demand. But Clark turned to Georgia, where Biden had triumphed by 11,779 votes in the first win for a Democratic Presidential candidate since 1992. He drafted a letter for Rosen to send to Georgia state legislators, falsely stating that the Justice Department was investigating accusations of voter fraud and that Biden’s triumph should be voided.

The initiative intersected with Trump’s phone call in early December to Republican Governor Brian Kemp and Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, seeking a session of the Georgia legislature to dismiss the vote and appoint Trump electors for the Electoral College vote on December 14.

See also Trump Called Georgia Governor to Overturn Election Outcome

Kemp and Raffensperger held firm, and Biden’s electors confirmed Georgia’s 16 votes in the Electoral College. But Trump persisted: just after Christmas, he called a top Georgia election investigator, telling him to “find the fraud” and saying he would be a “national hero” if he did so.

The Showdown

On New Year’s Eve, Rosen and Donoghue discussed Clark’s refusal to accept the election outcome. Clark responded by meeting Trump over the weekend. At midday on Sunday, January 3, he told Rosen that Trump intended to name him Acting Attorney General.

Clark added that Rosen could stay on as his Deputy Attorney General.

A day earlier, Trump had called Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger, ordering him “to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have because we won the state”. He threatened to fire Raffensperger and his general counsel Ryan Germany with criminal prosecution if they did not do so.

See also “Something That Was Not Normal”: Georgia Elections Official on Trump’s Shakedown

Rosen and Donoghue informed senior Department colleagues of Clark’s plans. in a late-afternoon call on January 3, they said Rosen would be going to Trump to discuss his fate.

The officials all agreed: if Rosen was fired, they would resign.

About 6 p.m., Rosen, Donoghue, and Mr. Clark met at the White House with Trump and White House lawyers.

White House Counsel Cipollone advised Trump not to fire Rosen. He repeated his advice that Trump should not write Georgia legislators seeking the overturn of the state’s elections.

Then Stephen Engel, the head Justice Department counsel, said he and remaining top officials would resign. Clark would be alone at the top of the Justice Department.

Trump faced the prospect of chaos at the department and Congressional investigations of his maneuvers. After almost three hours, he said Rosen could remain Acting Attorney General.

Three days later, Congress convened to certify Joe Biden as the 46th President. In the middle of the session, Trump’s supporters charged into the building, threatening to kill the legislators and Vice President Mike Pence — who had refused Trump’s demands to intervene and halt Biden’s confirmation.

See also American Carnival: The Spectacle Politics of the Trumpist Insurrection