According to new documents provided to lawmakers, former President Donald Trump pressed top Justice Department officials late last year to declare the election was rigged despite the fact that no widespread fraud had been discovered, so that he and his congressional allies could use the claim to try to overturn the results.
The demands were an unusual example of a president interfering with an agency that is typically more independent from the White House in order to further his own agenda.
They’re also the latest example of Trump’s wide-ranging campaign to delegitimize the election results in his final weeks in office.
Trump pressed the acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on voter fraud claims that the department had disproved during a phone call on Dec. 27.
Donoghue cautioned that the department lacked the authority to alter the election’s outcome.
According to notes taken by Donoghue during the conversation, Trump responded that he did not expect that.
“Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me”, Donoghue wrote to congressional allies in summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom Trump described as a “fighter,” Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who at the time promoted the idea that Trump’s election was stolen from him, and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, whom Trump praised for “getting to the bottom of things,” were among the lawmakers Trump mentioned during the call.
Jordan and Johnson denied any involvement in Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department.
STORY CONTINUES BELOW...
“Congressman Jordan did not, has not, and would not pressure anyone at the Justice Department about the 2020 election,” said Russell Dye, Jordan’s spokesman.
Jordan voted to overturn election results in key states but has downplayed his role in the president’s pressure campaign.
According to his spokeswoman, Alexa Henning, Johnson had “no conversations with President Trump about the D.O.J. questioning the election results.”
She pointed out that while he recognized Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the president-elect, he also demanded that election irregularities be thoroughly investigated and addressed in order to restore confidence in future elections.
He has maintained that Trump was elected, but he has not been linked to the White House’s efforts to keep him in office.
Donoghue’s notes were given to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is looking into the Trump administration’s efforts to illegally overturn election results.
Historically, the department has fought to keep any accounts of private conversations between a president and his cabinet secret in order to avoid setting a precedent that would prevent officials in future administrations from candidly advising presidents for fear of their conversations being made public later.
However, turning over the notes to Congress is part of a pattern of allowing scrutiny of Trump’s election-rigging efforts.
This week, the Biden Justice Department told Rosen, Donoghue, and other former officials that they could give unrestricted testimony to House Oversight and Reform and Senate Judiciary Committee investigators.
According to letters sent to former officials, the department reasoned that congressional investigators were looking into potential wrongdoing by a sitting president, which was an unusual circumstance.
The department concluded that invoking executive privilege over Trump’s efforts to push his personal agenda would be inappropriate because executive privilege is meant to benefit the country rather than the president as an individual.
Rosen and Donoghue’s conversation with Trump reflected his single-minded focus on overturning the election results.
Trump claimed voter fraud in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, and Arizona, calling them “corrupted elections” at one point.
“Much of the info you’re getting is false,” Donoghue said, adding that the department had conducted “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews” and had not found evidence to support his claims. “We look at allegations but they don’t pan out,” the officials told Trump, according to the notes.
According to the notes, the department discovered that the error rate of ballot counting in Michigan was 0.0063 percent, not the 68 percent claimed by the president; it found no evidence of a conspiracy theory that a Pennsylvania employee tampered with ballots; and it found no evidence of ballot fraud in Fulton County, Ga., after examining video and interviewing witnesses.
In Donahue’s notes, Trump was unfazed and dismissed the findings of the department. “All right, that’s fine — but what about the others?”
Trump requested that Donoghue travel to Fulton County to verify ballot signatures.
The people “saying that the election isn’t corrupt are corrupt,” Trump stated to officials, adding that they needed to act. “Not much time left.”
At another point, Donoghue said that the department could quickly verify or disprove the assertion that more ballots were cast in Pennsylvania than there are voters.
Trump was also informed that the Justice Department lacked evidence to support a lawsuit over the election results.
They stated, “We are not in a position based on the evidence. We can only act on the evidence that has been gathered.”
Trump berated the officials, saying that “thousands of people called” their local U.S. attorney’s offices to complain about the election and that “nobody trusts the F.B.I.” He said that “people are angry — blaming D.O.J. for inaction.”
“You guys may not be following the internet the way I do,” Mr. Trump said.
“People tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in,” Trump hinted, referring to the acting chief of the Justice Department’s civil division, who had also urged Justice Department officials to intervene in the election.
“People want me to replace D.O.J. leadership.”
“You should have the leadership you want,” Mr. Donoghue replied. But it “won’t change the dept’s position.”
Trump also instructed Justice Department officials to “figure out what to do” with Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, during the call.
He told them, “People will criticize the Department of Justice if he isn’t investigated for real,” breaking long-standing White House rules prohibiting the president from interfering in criminal investigations or other law enforcement actions.
Donoghue took notes at a meeting between Justice Department officials two days after the phone call with Trump: Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows; White House counsel, Pat Cipollone; and White House deputy counsel Patrick Philbin met to discuss a conspiracy theory known as Italygate, which claims that people in Italy used military technology to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States.
According to the notes and a person briefed on the meeting, Justice Department officials told the White House that they had assigned someone to look into the matter.
According to the person, they did not mention that the department was looking into the theory to debunk it.