Donald Trump speaks to followers outside the White House, January 6 (Tasos Katopodis/Getty)
An interim report by the Senate Judiciary Committee describes how Justice Department officials blocked an attempt by Donald Trump to stay in the White House despite Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 Presidential election.
The meeting was revealed earlier this year, as Trump tried to install a loyalist at the head of the Department; however, the report offers detail of the threat of the officials to resign en masse if Trump persisted.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy Richard Donoghue led the objections to Trump’s disinformation and lies. However, they were joined by White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy Patrick Philbin, who had defended Trump in his impeachment trial in the Trump-Ukraine scandal, in the pledge to resign.
Cipollone said Trump’s plan would be a “murder-suicide pact”. His stand helped push back Trump by the end of a meeting that lasted almost three hours.
Trump dropped the plan to replace Rosen with Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark. But the next day he pushed a memorandum by lawyer John Eastman proposing that Vice President Mike Pence undermine Congressional certification of Biden’s Electoral College victory. And when Pence refused, Trump developed the plan for his speech outside the White House on January 6, inciting supporters to march on the Capitol and “Stop the Steal”.
Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, summarized:
This report shows the American people just how close we came to a constitutional crisis. Thanks to a number of upstanding Americans in the Department of Justice, Donald Trump was unable to bend the department to his will. But it was not due to a lack of effort.
The Committee explains how on January 2, the day before the climactic meeting, Clark appeared to threaten Rosen into sending a letter falsely declaring that the Justice Department had identified “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election”. Clark raised the possibility of Trump firing Rosen if he did not comply.
Clark also said he had secretly conducted a witness interview with a person in Georgia, promoting the false claims of election fraud.
The report also highlights the possible role of Republican Rep.Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. The legislator called Acting Attorney General Donoghue, pressing him to investigate discredited fraud allegations in the state.
Clark claimed that he had joined Trump’s effort at Perry’s request, and said the lawmaker took him to an Oval Office meeting at the Oval Office to discuss voter fraud.
The meeting occurred about the same time as Perry and other members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus were at the White House to discuss the Congressional certification of Biden’s victory.
The report also confirms that Trump effectively removed Byung J. Pak, the US Attorney in Atlanta, when he refused to challenge Biden’s 11,779-vote margin in Georgia.
Trump told Justice Department officials that Pak was a never-Trumper responsible for the FBI’s failure to find evidence of mass fraud. When he rejected the arguments of the officials not to fire Pak, Donoghue advised the attorney to pre-emptively resign. Trump then tried to appoint a loyalist and campaign donor, Bobby Christine, to the post.
Attorney William Barr, the political appointee who protected Trump during the Trump-Russia and Trump-Ukraine affairs, also does not escape scrutiny.
Barr resigned on December 14, refused to publicly support Trump’s claims and privately calling them “bullshit”. But the Committee found that he personally demanded that the Justice Department investigate voter fraud allegations, after authorities had found no evidence of wrongdoing.
The claims included a declaration by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and a prime force behind the unfounded election fraud allegations, that he had a tape showing Democratic poll workers kicking out Republican counterparts from a polling station and fraudulently adding votes for Biden.
The Committee is still collecting material for its final report. Requests have been made for the National Archives to furnish documents, calendar appointments and communications involving the White House. Senators are also hoping that Clark will agree to an interview, even as they have asked the Washington D.C. Bar Association to open a disciplinary investigation into the Trump loyalist.