Trump Tried to Force the DOJ to ‘Just Say the Election Was Corrupt’

And ‘leave the rest’ to him.
October 7, 2021, 3:37pm
Then President-elect Donald Trump looks on during a rally on December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan.​
Then President-elect Donald Trump looks on during a rally on December 9, 2016 in Grand Rapids, Michigan. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

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President Trump led an extraordinary pressure campaign to try to get the Department of Justice to back up his voting fraud lies in the months after the November 2020 election, at one point telling them to “just say the election was corrupt,” according to new testimony from senior DOJ officials.

The testimony, included in a damning report from the Senate Judiciary Committee’s eight-month investigation into what led up to the January 6 insurrection against Congress, offers new detail into Trump’s effort to overturn his election loss—and how he unsuccessfully attempted to use the Justice Department to scare and pressure state officials into doing his bidding.

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On December 27, Trump spent 90 minutes on a phone call pressuring acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, the second-highest-ranking official at the DOJ at the time, to step in to help him bolster his false claims of widespread election fraud.

When Rosen told Trump that the DOJ  “can’t and won’t just flip a switch and change the election,” Trump responded by telling him to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] congressmen,” according to Donoghue.

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen similarly describes the conversation, testifying that he recalled Trump saying the DOJ  “should be out there finding [the election fraud] and saying so.”

On that same call, Trump complained that the DOJ wasn’t on top of what was really happening because “You guys aren’t following the internet the way I do.”

Trump’s call came in the immediate wake of Attorney General Bill Barr’s resignation. Barr, who said on December 1 that there was no “fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” announced on December 15 that he’d resign on December 23.

That Trump was talking to senior DOJ officials at all is in itself an extraordinary breach of conduct and a violation of DOJ protocols: The Department of Justice is supposed to operate without political pressure from the White House. And the DOJ has a longstanding policy of election noninterference that this clearly violated as well.

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But things escalated even further from there.

Trump had, at that point, been introduced to Jeffrey Clark, a lower-level DOJ official, who was pushing a plan to send a letter to officials in Georgia and other swing states Trump had lost, claiming “irregularities” in their elections and asking that the state legislatures intervene to overturn Trump’s loss in those states by sending pro-Trump slates of electors to Congress. 

With Trump’s support, Clark pushed his superiors to adopt that plan for more than a week. Clark also encouraged Trump to claim that foreign countries had interfered in the election and declare an emergency using the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, based on a wild conspiracy theory that Italy had interfered in the election to hurt Trump by using military satellites to change tens of thousands of votes.

Rosen and Donoghue rejected Clark’s plans: “There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this.” Donoghue emailed back to Clark. Donoghue, in an email to Rosen, called the Italy conspiracy theory “pure insanity.”

Trump also urged the DOJ on December 29 to file an emergency action with the Supreme Court contesting the election—a step that leaders refused to do.

In response, Trump summoned them to the White House on January 3.

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“One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election,” Trump groused at the top of the meeting, Rosen testified.

Trump spent three hours pushing the scheme and openly threatening to fire Rosen and replacing him with Clark. Trump only backed off his plan when Rosen and other officials, as well as top White House lawyer Pat Cipollone and his deputy, threatened to quit in protest if he didn’t back off, while warning that all of the DOJ’s assistant attorneys general would quit in protest as well. At one point, according to testimony from Rosen, Cipollone called the plan a “murder-suicide pact” that would wound democracy and Trump as well.

This plan failed, and Vice President Mike Pence balked at Trump’s backup plan to have him try to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral college victory on January 6. An incensed Trump then whipped up tens of thousands of protestors in Washington on that day who stormed the Capitol, attacked police, ransacked the building, and delayed Biden’s official victory.

The report also puts a spotlight on some of Trump’s enablers who still hold elected positions. 

That includes Pennsylvania Rep. Scott Perry, who has previously acknowledged that he introduced Clark to Trump. The report says that Perry repeatedly pushed disproven claims about problems with Pennsylvania's election system with Donoghue, at Trump’s urging, and complained that the DOJ hadn’t done its job in investigating the election. He followed up with an email making numerous Pennsylvania election fraud claims that had already been disproven, including incorrect claims that 200,000 more people had voted than were registered in the state and that more than 4,000 Pennsylvanians had voted more than once, when the real number was three. 

Perry and Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, along with other members of the hardline House Freedom Caucus, also joined Trump at a December 21 meeting to game-plan their January 6 Congressional strategy, as has been previously reported.

The report is unlikely to lead to any Senate action. But it provides more leads that the House’s January 6 Select Committee may investigate, especially into what roles members of Congress like Perry played in aiding and abetting Trump’s anti-Democratic efforts.