By Devlin Barrett,
A Senate report on President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election offers new details about an Oval Office confrontation between Trump and the Justice Department, revealing the extent to which government lawyers threatened to resign en masse if the president removed his attorney general.
The interim report by the Senate Judiciary Committee was issued Thursday. While Republicans on the panel offered their counter-findings, arguing that Trump did not subvert the justice system to remain in power, the majority report by the Democrats offers the most detailed account to date of the struggle inside the administration’s final, desperate days.
On Jan. 3, then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue, and a few other administration officials met in the Oval Office for what all expected to be a final confrontation on Trump’s plan to replace Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Justice Department official who had indicated he would publicly pursue Trump’s false claims of mass voter fraud.
According to testimony Rosen gave to the committee, Trump opened the meeting by saying, “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.”
For three hours, the officials then debated Trump’s plan, and the insistence by Rosen and others that they would resign rather than go along with it.
The Senate report says that the top White House lawyer, Pat Cipollone, and his deputy also said they would quit if Trump went through with his plan.
During the meeting, Donoghue and another Justice Department official made clear that all of the Justice Department’s assistant attorneys general “would resign if Trump replaced Rosen with Clark,” the report says. “Donoghue added that the mass resignations likely would not end there, and that U.S. Attorneys and other DOJ officials might also resign en masse.”
The details of the report were first reported by the New York Times.
A key issue in the meeting was a letter that Clark and Trump wanted the Justice Department to send to Georgia officials warning of “irregularities” in voting and suggesting the state legislature get involved. Clark thought the letter should also be sent to officials in other states where Trump supporters were contesting winning Biden vote totals, the report said.
Rosen and Donoghue had refused to send such a letter, infuriating Trump. According to the report, the president thought that if he installed Clark as the new attorney general, the letter would go out and fuel his bid to toss out Biden victories in a handful of states.
At one point in the meeting, Cipollone called Clark’s letter a “murder-suicide pact,” for the chain reaction it would be likely to set off inside the government.
Leading up to the Jan. 3 meeting, Trump had pressed Rosen in a string of phone calls to pursue false or fanciful claims of voter fraud. Rosen had largely resisted those entreaties, while saying the department would pursue meaningful allegations of fraud.
Rosen’s predecessor, William P. Barr, had already declared, in early December, that there was no evidence of the kind of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the election.
The counter-report by committee Republicans on Thursday emphasized that Trump ultimately backed away from the plan to replace Rosen with Clark and issue Clark’s letter: “President Trump’s actions were consistent with his responsibilities as President to faithfully execute the law and oversee the Executive Branch,” it says.
Given Trump’s long-running distrust of the FBI’s handling of the 2016 election, the report says, it was “reasonable that President Trump maintained substantial skepticism concerning the DOJ’s and FBI’s neutrality and their ability to adequately investigate election fraud allegations in a thorough and unbiased manner.”
This is a developing story.