Analysis by Zachary B. Wolf, CNN- CNN.COM
(CNN)President Donald Trump — back in the final days of his presidency — didn’t exactly make a secret of his effort to overturn the election he’d just lost and so it’s very easy to get tired of thinking about it, now that he’s out of office and his official powers have been clipped.
But in addition to the lies he was spreading all along, we continue to learn new and disturbing details about his obstinate and pernicious efforts to poison the system from within, which included an “Apprentice”-style showdown between two top Justice Department officials at the White House and threats of resignation.
Woven together, they show that Trump’s assault on democracy, which looks more and more like an attempted coup, was even more reckless and insistent than previously thought.
The recent news includes these items:
- Trump pressured acting DOJ officials like acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen on December 27 to “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen,” according to the notes of acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue’s notes, shared with House investigators.
- A day later, on December 28, at least one acting DOJ official, Jeffrey Clark, who was in charge of the civil division, apparently bought into Trump’s lies, or wanted to assuage him, and drafted a letter suggesting there were election irregularities in the election (there weren’t), but it was rebuffed by other top acting officials.
- Officials like Rosen’s chief of staff Patrick Hovakimian drafted letters of resignation in case his boss was pushed out in favor of Clark.
CNN’s Marshall Cohen, Jason Morris, Christopher Hickey and Will Mullery have put together an in-depth timeline of Trump’s efforts to corrupt the US government and the Georgia government. It is exhaustive and shocking.
It’s the threat of a block of DOJ resignations among the acting officials (these people, as acting officials, were supposed to be Trump loyalists) that may have stopped Trump from a last-minute firing of officials at Justice.
Bear in mind that Trump’s pressure on Rosen and Donoghue came exactly one day after the final resignation of former Attorney General William Barr.
Barr left the administration in its final month, not long after he’d told a reporter the truth, that there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud that could change the outcome of the election.
Trump exploded at this perceived betrayal by Barr in a White House meeting documented by Jonathan Karl in a forthcoming book.
On Barr’s last day, Trump was on the phone with officials in Georgia, encouraging them to “find” votes. They wouldn’t do it.
These details will come out in a fuller narrative now that House investigators are interviewing former Trump officials.
That official record will supplement the details we already knew, like the “Apprentice”-style showdown, which went on for hours, where Rosen and Clark each presented arguments to Trump about how to proceed in his final days.
That occurred January 3. Three days later, Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol to stop the counting of electoral votes.
The strain of Trump’s efforts to undermine the election were not isolated to the Justice Department. Earlier this year we learned from another book that the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Gen. Mark Milley was actively engaged in countering any effort by Trump to use the government to seize power.
It’s good news that even officials once perceived as Trump loyalists would not help him overturn the election. But it all needs to be considered in context and with the knowledge that Trump could very well run for the White House again.
It’s also worth considering whether he broke the law by exerting pressure to break the US democratic process.
“Forget about a crime. I see several federal crimes here,” said the former federal prosecutor and CNN analyst Elie Honig, who has recently published a book that is an indictment of Barr’s time in the Trump administration.
Here’s more detail from Honig, who made these comments to CNN’s Erin Burnett:
“I’ll be specific. It is a federal crime to deprive a state of a fair election.
It is a federal crime to solicit false counting of ballots, false certification of an election.
It is a federal crime to conspire against the United States.
Now, could a good defense lawyer come in and quibble with this or try to poke holes in it? Sure. I gladly take on that fight.”
Honig said there’s ample evidence for a criminal probe and that current Attorney General Merrick Garland should launch one even though DOJ hasn’t: “This is deadly serious and there has to be consequences. Imagine if there is no consequences for this whatsoever. What kind of message does that send?”
Trump already escaped impeachment, although these latest details were not known when the vote was taken. He pressured Republicans on Capitol Hill to kill a full nonpartisan review of the insurrection. He’s argued the committee Democrats have empaneled is partisan.
He’s trying to corrupt our knowledge of the events just like he tried to corrupt the outcome of the election.