Former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results late last year by pressuring Justice Department officials may be worse than initially thought, according to newly available documents and a report from the New York Times.
In a phone conversation with then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, Trump suggested that the election should be declared corrupt despite there being no proof of rampant fraud. This new information was made public on Friday when the House Committee on Oversight and Reform released Donoghue’s handwritten notes documenting the conversation and helping to fill in the blanks concerning Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results.
The phone conversation in question took place on December 27, 2020, and largely consisted of Donoghue and Rosen advising Trump that they were unable to change the outcome of the election in his favor. According to Donoghue’s notes, Trump reportedly responded by saying, “just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen.”
Although Trump and other Republican politicians spent weeks claiming election fraud and cultivating general mistrust, there is ultimately no backing to their claims.
In fact, it was widely seen as one of the most secure elections in America’s history, as Vox’s Jen Kirby reported shortly after the election,
“The November 3rd election was the most secure in American history. Right now, across the country, election officials are reviewing and double-checking the entire election process prior to finalizing the result,” the coordinating bodies on election infrastructure and security said in a joint statement issued by the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).
The statement directly contradicts President Donald Trump, who has made unfounded allegations of widespread voting irregularities and fraud. The president is using these claims to challenge the vote counts in several key states that delivered President-elect Joe Biden his apparent Electoral College victory.
Nevertheless, Trump’s attacks on the election results came quickly, even before results had been tabulated, claiming that poll workers were hiding suitcases stuffed with ballots and that election officials manipulated a signature-verification machine used in ballot counting.
Both of these claims have been disproven, but this did not stop the Trump campaign and many supporters from bringing their concerns to court in six states and promptly losing over 60 cases, including at the Supreme Court. In response to the complaints purporting illicit activity, then-Attorney General William Barr said in early December, “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Trump’s claims of election fraud were inaccurate
Trump was quick to allege during the December 27 phone conversation that results from the states of Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona constituted “corrupted elections.”
“We are doing our job. Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Donoghue said, stating that the DOJ had carried out “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews,” and found that the election was sound. Trump responded by asking about ballot fraud in Fulton County, Georgia, and other areas, and when reassured that there was no proof of illicit activity, he asked Donoghue to verify signatures on ballots in Fulton County in person. Trump also claimed that the error rate of ballot counting was 68 percent in the state of Michigan, while the department found that it was only 0.0063 percent. “We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal corrupt election,” Trump said, according to Donoghue’s notes.
Rosen eventually stepped in to explain the reality of the situation as well as the DOJ’s limitations, asking Trump to “understand that the DOJ can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way.”
But this was not what Trump wanted to hear. “People tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in,” said Trump, mentioning the Republican then-chief of the Justice Department’s civil division. “People want me to replace DOJ leadership,” he continued, making a less-than-subtle threat to Donoghue’s and Rosen’s jobs in favor of Clark, who had also pushed Justice Department officials to intervene in election results. “You should have the leadership you want,” Donoghue responded.
Although it was common knowledge that Trump was calling the election results fraudulent everywhere from press conferences to Twitter, Donoghue’s notes documenting the phone call are important because of the seriousness of Trump’s requests.
Upon releasing the documents yesterday, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, chair of the Committee on Oversight and Reform, issued a statement: “These handwritten notes show that President Trump directly instructed our nation’s top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency.” Maloney also said in the statement that the committee intends to interview witnesses as part of a larger investigation of the president’s “corruption.”
DOJ decisions could topple Trump’s hopes of avoiding accountability
This action is among several recent efforts by the DOJ to investigate Trump’s actions at the end of his term. This week, as Maloney mentioned in her statement, the Justice Department authorized former officials who had worked under the Trump administration to be interviewed, including Donoghue and Rosen. Jeffrey Clark will also be interviewed specifically about whether he was involved in plotting to replace Rosen in order to further his investigation of voter fraud.
DOJ officials have been given permission by the department to give “unrestricted testimony, ... so long as the testimony is confined to the scope of the interviews set forth by the committees.” This is notable because along with issues relating to voter fraud and attempts to overturn the election, the committees to which the officials will be giving testimony are also investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
This is not good news for Trump, especially considering a second DOJ decision regarding Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who is being sued for allegedly helping to incite the Capitol riots in a speech he made to supporters the morning of the riot. Brooks has countered that he is entitled to immunity because he was acting as a federal employee when making the speech. However, Attorney General Merrick Garland refused to corroborate this, leaving Brooks vulnerable. This may impact Trump as he is facing similar charges of incitement, and Garland’s decision undermines Trump’s anticipated defense of “executive privilege.”
Adding to the former president’s woes, the Justice Department released a memo on Friday requiring the Treasury Department to turn over Trump’s tax returns to the House Ways and Means Committee.
“The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee has invoked sufficient reasons for requesting the former President’s tax information. Treasury must furnish the information to the Committee,” wrote Assistant Attorney General Dawn Johnsen.
Trump’s refusal to release his full tax returns has been viewed as a strategy to keep his business affairs, namely those involving his family company, the Trump Organization, private. Under this order, he is now required to release this information to the committee, the primary stated reason being to ensure that he has not taken unfair advantage of US tax laws.