Trump Pressed Justice Department to Discredit 2020 Election, Official’s Notes Show

Jul 30, 2021
In The News

WASHINGTON -- Then-President Donald Trump pressed top Justice Department officials in late December to declare the 2020 election corrupt in support of his efforts to overturn President Biden's victory, notes of the conversation show.

Mr. Trump made the demand during a Dec. 27 phone call with then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, whose scribbled notes memorializing the conversation were released to Congress and made public Friday.

"Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen," Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Donoghue's notes, after Mr. Rosen told him the Justice Department "can't + won't snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn't work that way."

At other points in the conversation, Mr. Trump criticized the top two officials, saying "People are angry -- blaming DOJ + for inaction" and "DOJ failing to respond to legitimate complaints / report of crimes," Mr. Donoghue's notes say.

"You guys may not be following the internet the way I do," Mr. Trump told them, according to the notes released by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is examining the Trump administration's efforts in its final days to undo Mr. Biden's win.

Notes of the phone call offer the latest glimpse into Mr. Trump's unsuccessful efforts to get the Justice Department to investigate unsupported claims of voter fraud in the weeks before Mr. Biden's inauguration, even after multiple senior department officials, including former Attorney General William Barr, had said publicly there was no evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 election that would have changed the results.

Mr. Trump began contacting Mr. Rosen concerning the election almost immediately after Mr. Barr resigned Dec. 23 under pressure from the president, documents from the committee show. At one point in the Dec. 27 conversation, Mr. Trump alleged voter fraud in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona and Michigan.

Messrs. Donoghue and Rosen told him those allegations weren't supported by evidence. "We are doing our job," they told him, according to the notes. "Much of the info you're getting is false."

A spokeswoman for Mr. Trump didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

"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," said Carolyn Maloney (D., N.Y.), who chairs the committee that released the materials.

The prospect that former Trump officials would share notes and information with the committee arose after the Justice Department said this week it would allow them to give "unrestricted testimony" before Congress, making a rare exception to longstanding practice against officials speaking publicly about confidential internal deliberations.

Mr. Trump and his lawyers haven't tried to stop that process.

Mr. Donoghue's notes of the Dec. 27 call don't record Mr. Trump expressly saying which Republican congressmen he expected would help him, but referenced three, including Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom the president is noted as calling "a fighter."

Russell Dye, a spokesman for Mr. Jordan, on Friday said the lawmaker "has not, and would not, pressure anyone at the Justice Department about the 2020 election," adding that "he continues to agree with President Trump that it is perfectly appropriate to raise concerns about election integrity."

During the December call, Mr. Trump is noted as praising another Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, who had expressed a willingness to use the department's power to help Mr. Trump continue his legal battles contesting the election results.

"People tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in. People want me to replace DOJ leadership," Mr. Trump said, according to Mr. Donoghue's notes.

Mr. Trump's plans to replace Mr. Rosen with Mr. Clark didn't materialize because other senior Justice Department officials threatened to resign en masse should Mr. Trump fire Mr. Rosen, The Wall Street Journal and other publications previously reported.