New details of Trump’s pressure on Justice Department in election

WASHINGTON – Even by President Donald J. Trump’s standards, it was an extraordinary showdown with the Oval Office. On the agenda was Mr. Trump’s desire to install a loyalist as interim attorney general to pursue his demands for more aggressive investigations into his baseless allegations of electoral fraud.

On the other side, at that January 3 evening meeting were top Justice Department officials, who warned Mr. Trump that they and other senior officials would resign en masse if he was following up. They received immediate support from another key participant: Pat A. Cipollone, the White House lawyer. According to others at the meeting, Mr. Cipollone indicated that he and his senior deputy, Patrick F. Philbin, would also step down if Mr. Trump implemented his plan.

The plan proposed by Mr. Trump, according to Mr. Cipollone, would be a “murder-suicide pact”, recalled a participant. It was only towards the end of the nearly three-hour meeting that Mr. Trump relented and agreed to back down on his threat.

Mr. Cipollone’s position that evening is among the new details contained in a long intermediate report prepared by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to obey his orders during the chaotic final weeks of his presidency.

The report draws on documents, emails and testimony from three senior Justice Department officials, including Mr. Trump’s acting attorney general last month in office, Jeffrey A. Rosen; Acting Assistant Attorney General Richard P. Donoghue; and Byung J. Pak, who until early January was US Attorney General in Atlanta. It provides the most comprehensive account to date of Mr. Trump’s efforts to push the department to validate allegations of electoral fraud that had been refuted by the FBI and state investigators.

The interim report, released Thursday, describes how Justice Department officials struggled to avoid pressure during a period when Mr. Trump was receiving advice on blocking the attorney election certification he he had seen it for the first time on television, and the President’s actions were so disturbing that his Chief General and the Speaker of the House discussed the nuclear chain of command.

“This report shows the American people how close we are to a constitutional crisis,” Richard J. Durbin, Democrat of Illinois and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said in a statement. “Thanks to a number of honest Americans in the Justice Department, Donald Trump was unable to bend the department to his will. But it wasn’t for lack of effort.

Mr Durbin said he believed the former president, who remains a frontrunner for the Republican nomination in 2024, would have “shredded the Constitution to stay in power.”

Mr Durbin’s committee report closely follows previous accounts of the final days of the Trump administration, which have led several congressional panels and the Justice Department watchdog to launch investigations.

But, relying in particular on interviews with M. Rosen and M. Donoghue, both of whom were at the Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting, it highlights new details that underscore the intensity and relentlessness with which Mr. Trump has pursued his goal of overturning the election, and the role that the key government officials have played in his efforts.

On at least nine occasions in December and early January, according to the report, Mr. Trump called on officials to take action that they said could undermine an election result they had deemed valid, and which he and his allies had. contacted department heads almost every day, sometimes several times a day.

On December 14, the same day Attorney General William P. Barr informed Mr. Trump that he was stepping down, leaving Mr. Rosen as Acting Attorney General, Mr. Trump emailed Mr. Rosen with two items, according to the report. .

One was a set of talking points on allegations of voter fraud in Michigan. The other was a purported review of problems with Dominion Voting Systems machines in Michigan. Over the next three weeks, according to the report, Mr. Trump would continue to push the Justice Department to investigate equally specious allegations.

The report fleshed out the role of Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Justice Department official who participated in several conversations with Mr. Trump about how to overturn the election and who prompted his superiors to send Georgian officials a letter claiming to wrongly that the Department of Justice had identified “significant concerns that could have had an impact on the outcome of the elections”.

Mr. Trump was weighing whether to replace Mr. Rosen with Mr. Clark. At the start of the Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting, Mr. Rosen said, Mr. Trump said, “One thing we know is that you, Rosen, are not going to do anything to overturn the election.

The report also detailed a January 2 confrontation in which Mr Clark appeared to both threaten and coerce Mr Rosen to send the letter. He first raised the possibility that Mr. Trump could fire Mr. Rosen, and then said he would decline any offer to replace Mr. Rosen as acting attorney general if Mr. Rosen sent the letter.

Mr Clark also revealed during this meeting that he had secretly interviewed a witness in Georgia in connection with allegations of electoral fraud that had already been refuted.

The report raised new questions about the role Rep. Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, played in the White House’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department to help overturn the election. Mr. Perry called Mr. Donoghue to pressure him to investigate debunked allegations of electoral fraud that had been made in Pennsylvania, the report said, and he complained to Mr. Donoghue that the Department of Justice was not doing enough to investigate such allegations.

Mr Clark, according to the report, also told officials he participated in White House efforts at Mr Perry’s request and that lawmakers took him to a meeting in the Oval Office to discuss the fraud electoral. This meeting took place around the same time Mr. Perry and members of the Conservative House Freedom Caucus met at the White House to discuss the certification of election results on January 6.

The report confirmed that Mr. Trump was the reason Mr. Pak hurriedly quit his post as U.S. lawyer in Atlanta, an area Mr. Trump has falsely told people he won. Mr. Trump told senior Justice Department officials that Mr. Pak was never deceptive, and he blamed Mr. Pak for the FBI’s failure to find evidence of mass electoral fraud in it.

At the Jan. 3 meeting in the Oval Office, Mr. Donoghue and others attempted to convince Mr. Trump not to fire Mr. Pak because he planned to step down in a few days. But Mr Trump made it clear to officials that Mr Pak was due to leave the next day, which prompted Mr Donoghue to phone him that evening and tell him he would have to step down as a preventive measure.

Mr. Trump has also stepped out of the normal line of succession to push a perceived loyalist, Bobby L. Christine, to lead the Atlanta office. Mr. Christine had served as a US attorney in Savannah and donated to Mr. Trump’s campaign.

Republicans have sought for months to downplay information about Mr. Trump’s lobbying campaign, arguing that he simply cast a wide net for legal advice and rightly concluded that it would be a mistake to replace Mr. Rosen by M. Clark. Iowa Republican Senator Charles E. Grassley echoed those sentiments Thursday with the posting of a report of the Republican committee, which called Mr. Trump’s actions “consistent with his responsibilities as president to faithfully carry out the law and oversee the executive branch.”

But Mr Rosen, Mr Donoghue and Mr Pak – all Republicans – testified that Mr Trump did not seek their legal advice, but forced them to violate their oaths of office, undermine election results and overthrow the law. Constitution. .

The report is not the Senate Judiciary Committee’s final word on the lobbying campaign.

The panel is still waiting for the National Archives to provide documents, calendar appointments and communications involving the White House regarding efforts to overturn the election. He asked the National Archives, which hold correspondence and documents generated by previous presidential administrations, to archive them this spring.

He is also waiting to see if Mr. Clark will be interviewed and help provide missing details about what was going on inside the White House in the last few weeks of the Trump administration. Further, the committee asked the District of Columbia Bar, which authorizes and disciplines attorneys, to initiate a disciplinary investigation against Mr. Clark based on his findings.

The report recommended that the Justice Department tighten up procedures regarding when it can take certain overt steps in the investigation of election-related fraud. As attorney general, according to the report, Barr has weakened the ministry’s strict policy for decades of only taking investigative action in fraud cases after an election has been certified, a step intended to prevent a federal investigation from affecting the outcome of the election.

The Senate committee found that Barr had personally asked the department to investigate the allegations of voter fraud, even though other authorities had looked into them and found no evidence of wrongdoing. These allegations included a claim by Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer and a main force behind the unsubstantiated electoral fraud allegations, that he had a tape that showed Democratic polling officers beating their Republican counterparts. a polling station and fraudulently add votes for Joseph R. Biden Jr. to the account.

On December 1, just two weeks before saying he would step down, Mr Barr said the Justice Department had found no evidence of electoral fraud widespread enough to change the fact that Mr Biden won the election. presidency.

But Mr. Trump kept revisiting unsubstantiated accounts of electoral fraud.

Shortly after the Oval Office meeting ended on the night of January 3, according to the committee’s report, Mr. Trump contacted Mr. Donoghue, asking him to review information that the Department of Homeland Security had. took possession of a truck. full of shredded ballots outside of Atlanta.

The report turned out to be false.

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