Emails show Trump pressured top DOJ officials to overturn election
WASHINGTON (CN) — Even after former Attorney General William Barr announced publicly that no fraud occurred in the 2020 election, a newly made public trove of emails from the tail end of the Trump administration shows that the former president actively pressured top Justice Department officials to back up his claims that he was robbed of a second term.
The emails were released Tuesday by the House Oversight Committee and paint a vivid picture of how Trump needled Barr’s successor, the acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, to investigate the election for voter fraud.
Indeed, Trump’s emails started flowing just an hour before Trump abruptly announced Barr’s resignation via Twitter.
Spanning over 200 pages, the documents from the Justice Department are broken up into four categories covering a period from mid December to early January. They center on voter fraud allegations in Michigan, potential nullification of the election by the U.S. Supreme Court, email correspondence from former assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark and DOJ officials; and emails from Trump’s then-White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows.
The “apparent goal” laid bare in the emails, House Oversight Committee Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney said in a statement early Tuesday, was for Trump to retain power despite his clear defeat by now-President Joe Biden.
“These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost,” the New York Democrat said. “Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the Committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy.”
Trump publicly conceded he lost the November election on Jan. 7 in a video on Twitter, though he never called Biden by name, saying that a “new administration will be inaugurated” and that he would focus on a “smooth” and “orderly” transition of power.
His statement came one day after thousands of rioters repeating Trump’s claim that the election was stolen stormed the U.S. Capitol, wreaked havoc and spilled blood while they brutalized more than 100 police officers and destroyed federal property. The insurrection at the Capitol ultimately culminated in the deaths of at least five people and led to Trump’s second impeachment, this time for incitement of insurrection. He was impeached the first time for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Before the insurrection, however, White House deputy assistant Molly Michael emailed Rosen and Richard Donoghue, then-deputy acting attorney general, between December 14 and December 29 to urge, at Trump’s behest, a review of so-called “anomalies” in voting machines in Michigan.
And from late December into early January, the emails kept coming, cascading into new requests from Donoghue to officials at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Western District of Pennsylvania — as well as to Steven Engel, the U.S. assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel — to explore the alleged fraud in advance of a meeting with Trump at the White House.
In one email dated Dec. 29, private attorney Kurt Olsen thanked John Moran, a task force staff attorney at the Justice Department, for calling him “on behalf of AG Rosen” and attached a proposed draft of a lawsuit he could bring to challenge the election outcome. It was modeled after a Texas Supreme Court lawsuit that had failed. Notably, the draft hinged on the administration’s failed argument that on state officials abused pandemic restrictions to allow for election fraud.
Olsen took private calls with Trump, the emails show, where the commander-in-chief urged him to meet in person with Rosen and discuss their strategy moving forward.
“The President of the United States has seen this complaint,” Olsen wrote to Moran. “And he directed me to brief AG Rosen in person today to discuss bringing this action. I have been instructed to report back to the president this afternoon after this meeting.”
Olsen told Moran he could be at the DOJ headquarters within an hour.
The proposed legal draft was shared with White House counsel Pat Cippollone and Mark Meadows, the former North Carolina congressman-turned White House chief of staff.
Meadows, from Dec. 30 onward, ramped up his emails to the Justice Department asking for an investigation into various election fraud claims made by Trump and his associates including Cleta Mitchell.
Mitchell, a longtime conservative attorney who once represented the National Rifle Association, was once a key figure in the House Intelligence Committee’s probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. McClatchy reported that Mitchell expressed concern in 2018 that the NRA and Russia coordinated to funnel cash into Trump’s first presidential bid. Mitchell denied the allegations but cooperated with legislators.
Mitchell too was on the Jan. 2 call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Trump where Trump, without mincing words, demanded officials “find him” at least 11,000 ballots. Those “found” ballots would be just enough for Trump to beat Biden there.
She eventually resigned as partner at Foley & Lardner after the Washington law firm issued a statement saying the Jan. 2 call may have violated the law. The statement has since been pulled from the firm’s website.
Meadows also asked Rosen in an email on Jan. 1 to explore “allegations of signature match anomalies” in Georgia.
“Can you get Jeff Clark to engage on this issue immediately and determine if there is any truth to this allegation?” Meadows wrote to Rosen.
Meadows also forwarded Rosen a list of fraud allegations from New Mexico and then, much to Rosen’s apparent frustration, a YouTube link supporting a conspiracy theory that Italian defense satellites were used to change votes or tamper with voting machines in America.
Rosen’s patience had worn thin.
“Pure insanity,” Rosen wrote to Donoghue.
In another email, Rosen remarked to Donoghue: “Can you believe this? I’m not going to respond to the message below.”
Meadows also tried to get Rosen to take a meeting with Brad Johnson, a retired CIA officer and ally of Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani. Johnson openly supported Trump’s 2020 election fraud conspiracy and was a proponent of the Italian satellite conspiracy.
“After this message, I was asked to have FBI meet with Brad Johnson and I responded that Johnson could walk into FBI’s Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have,” Rosen wrote. “On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as ‘an insult.’ Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his witnesses.”
Rosen continued: “And [then I] re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this.”
Oversight Committee Chairwoman Maloney demanded Tuesday that Meadows and Donoghue sit for an interview with the committee. The documents were initially requested in May, and Tuesday’s revelations are a result of the agency’s compliance. In addition to Meadows and Donoghue, Maloney also wants to interview former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, former Associate Deputy Attorney General Patrick Hovakimian and former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia Byung Jin Pak.