Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee released a sweeping report Thursday detailing what they say is evidence former President Donald Trump and a top lawyer in the Justice Department attempted to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
After the eight-month investigation, the findings highlight the relentlessness of Trump and some of his top advisers as they fixated on using DOJ to prop up false conspiracies of election fraud.
The committee report, the most comprehensive account so far of Trump’s efforts to overturn the election, described his conduct as an abuse of presidential power.
These are the key takeaways:
Trump asked DOJ nine times to undermine election results
Trump directly asked the Justice Department nine times to undermine the election result, and White House chief of staff Mark Meadows broke administration policy by pressuring a Justice Department lawyer to investigate claims of election fraud, according to the report, which is based on witness interviews of former top Justice Department officials.
The series of interactions between the President and acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, then the second in command at DOJ, began in mid-December with an Oval Office meeting, included several phone calls and continued through January 3.
In multiple calls, Trump claimed there was election fraud in Pennsylvania and Arizona – both states he lost – telling Rosen “people are saying” and asking the Justice Department to look into the rumors, according to the committee.
“You guys aren’t following the internet the way I do,” Trump said at one point, according to both Donoghue and Rosen.
Rosen told the President the department “can’t and won’t just flip a switch and change the election.” That prompted Trump to simply ask for an official Justice Department announcement that the election was corrupt and then “leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen,” the committee report said.
DOJ had not – and has not – found any widespread fraud in the election, and simultaneously Trump’s campaign was filing lawsuits to throw out millions of votes in the swing states.
Republicans continue to downplay Trump’s actions
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley’s office issued a GOP version of events that largely absolves Trump of any wrongdoing.
The Republican rebuttal report claims that the “available evidence shows the President Trump did not use the Justice Department to overturn the election.” Ultimately, it argues that “Trump listened to his advisors, including high-level DOJ officials and White House Counsel and followed their recommendations.”
Grassley told reporters Thursday that he doesn’t understand how Democrats came to such a different conclusion than Republicans on Trump’s actions between Election Day and the January 3 meeting with DOJ officials.
“I don’t know how you can reach any conclusion, except that Trump had everybody in the White House to discuss that and unanimously, except for one, they said you shouldn’t do what the one lawyer said he thought the President ought to do,” said Grassley. “The President rejected it. The President did the right thing.”
He continued, “How does that create any sort of problem? In fact it, if he had made another decision you would have had a problem.”
“Read the transcripts, and you’ll come to the same conclusion my report came to,” concluded Grassley.
Senate Democrats highlight live threat
Despite the conclusion by Grassley and his fellow Republicans, it is impossible to ignore the fact that the Democrats’ findings highlight a threat that continues to this day, more than six months after pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol in a bid to stop Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s electoral victory.
Trump continues to push false claims about the 2020 election and support sham “audits” of vote counts in key states he lost in a bid to overturn the outcome.
Department of Homeland Security and intelligence officials have repeatedly warned that false narratives about voter fraud, like the ones Trump continues to promote, will almost certainly lead to more violence by domestic extremists this year in the wake of the January 6 US Capitol attack but that has done little to stop the former President from continuing to undermine the electoral process.
Trump tried to play Clark vs Rosen
The nearly 400-page report by Democrats offers new details about the January 3 Oval Office meeting between Trump, White House lawyers and DOJ officials which took place after Clark revealed the former President planned to install him as acting attorney general that day.
Specifically, the report describes how Trump had Rosen and Clark vie for the attorney general’s job during the nearly three-hour meeting. Ultimately, Trump decided not to replace Rosen with Clark but the report also details how discussions about Clark’s plan in Georgia became inextricably linked to talks about him replacing Rosen.
“According to Rosen, Trump opened the meeting by saying, ‘One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election,’” the report says.
Clark had pushed Rosen and Donoghue to have the Justice Department announce election fraud investigations and ask state leaders in Georgia to appoint electors, potentially disregarding the certified popular vote. Clark began making the pitch in late December after speaking with Trump directly, the committee found.
“Over the course of the next three hours, the group had what Donoghue called ‘a wide-ranging conversation’ focused on whether Trump should replace DOJ’s leadership, install Clark in Rosen’s place, and send Clark’s proposed letter – and whether Clark was even qualified to assume the Acting Attorney General position. Rosen and Donoghue told us that by this point, Clark’s proposed letter and his potential role as Acting Attorney General were intertwined,” it adds.
The report goes on to note that at some point during the meeting, DOJ officials and White House lawyers made clear that there would be mass resignations if Trump moved forward with replacing Rosen with Clark – something he told the committee was “important context” for the then-President as he weighed his decision.
Donoghue and Rosen also recalled White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Patrick Philbin pushing back on the plan to replace Rosen with Clark, with Cipollone calling Clark’s letter a “murder-suicide pact” and the two White House lawyers indicating that they would also resign, according to the report.
Despite the threat of mass resignations, Trump “continued for some time to entertain the idea of installing Clark in Rosen’s place,” the report notes. It also says Donoghue told the panel that Trump did not reject Clark’s proposal until “‘very deep into the conversation,’ within the final 15 minutes of the two- to three-hour meeting.”
National Archives delay could spell trouble for 1/6 select committee
The report makes clear another major hurdle for those investigating the origins of January 6: The custodian of the Trump White House records, the National Archives and Records Administration, can’t help much — at least not right now.
“NARA has not responded to date, and has represented to the Committee that the delay in transitioning electronic Trump records from the White House to NARA may prevent the Committee from obtaining a response for several more months,” the report says.
The inability for the National Archives to provide records becomes more important if, or perhaps when, Trump allies refuse to hand over their own records during that period. To put it simply: the archives is somewhat of a backup plan in the event others refuse to comply with the subpoena.
Asked about the report’s claim that there was a delay in transmitting the records and whether that could pose a challenge in fulfilling the January 6 select Committee’s request, the National Archives would only say it “is in receipt of the May 20, 2021, request from the Senate Judiciary Committee and will respond to it in accordance with the Presidential Records Act (44 U.S.C. Chap. 22), Executive Order 13489, and NARA’s regulations at 36 CFR Part 1270.”
US Attorney was asked to resign after Trump said he’d fire him
Trump told the DOJ to fire a US attorney after complaining “they didn’t find anything” in Atlanta.
The report further cleared up the mystery around the abrupt departure of BJay Pak, the Trump-appointed Atlanta US attorney who resigned suddenly on January 4, after previously telling associates he wasn’t stepping down until the inauguration.
Trump had told top DOJ and White House officials he intended to fire Pak for not doing enough to investigate supposed election fraud, according to the report. The officials convinced Trump to let them secure an immediate resignation from Pak instead.
Trump, according to Donohue, groused at the Oval Office meeting that Pak was “never-Trumper.” Trump also instructed Donohue to replace Pak with Savannah US Attorney Bobby Christine, bypassing the normal chain of succession that would have elevated a career official in the Atlanta office instead. Donohue told the panel that Trump said something to the effect of, “Well, if this guy is good, maybe something will actually get done,” which Donohue took to mean some kind of investigation that hadn’t been done.
In fact, Pak – at the urging of then-Attorney General William Barr, who left in late December – did take additional steps to investigate questionable allegations of election fraud, according to the report, even after Georgia election officials had refuted the claims. Barr asked Pak to make it a “top priority” to look into claims pushed by Rudy Giuliani about a suitcase supposedly carrying ballots into a Georgia voting site, according to Pak’s testimony to the Senate.
Pak ultimately reported to DOJ officials that “there was no substance to the allegations,” according to his testimony.
CNN’s Tierney Sneed, Katelyn Polantz and Whitney Wild contributed to this report.