President Donald Trump called his acting attorney general nearly every day at the end of last year to alert him to claims of voter fraud or alleged improper vote counts in the 2020 election, according to two people familiar with the conversations.
Rosen told few people about the phone calls, even in his inner circle. But there are notes of some of the calls that were written by a top aide to Rosen, Richard Donoghue, who was present for some of the conversations, these people said.
Donoghue’s notes could be turned over to Congress in a matter of days, they added, if Trump does not file papers in court seeking to block such a handover. In addition, both Rosen and Donoghue could be questioned about the conversations by congressional committees examining Trump’s actions in the days after the election.
The Justice Department recently notified Rosen, Donoghue and others who were serving there during the end of Trump’s presidency that the agency would not seek to invoke executive privilege if they are asked about their contacts with the president during that period.
That posture — which the letter to Rosen calls a departure from normal agency practice — means that individuals who are questioned by Congress would not have to say the conversations with the president were off-limits. They would be able to share details that give a firsthand account of Trump’s frantic attempts to overturn the 2020 election and involve the Justice Department in that effort.
Neither Rosen nor Donoghue responded to messages seeking comment, and Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley declined to comment.
A spokeswoman for Trump also did not respond to a request for comment.
In May, Rosen pointedly told Congress he did not do many of the things Trump supporters had demanded.
“During my tenure, no special prosecutors were appointed, whether for election fraud or otherwise; no public statements were made questioning the election; no letters were sent to State officials seeking to overturn the election results; [and] no DOJ court actions or filings were submitted seeking to overturn election results,” Rosen testified.
The phone calls came in late 2020 and early 2021, when Trump and his supporters were furiously pressing for officials at all levels of the government to intercede in the usually routine process of certifying the election results — asking them to either launch new investigations, support unverified allegations of fraud or manipulation of vote counts, or otherwise throw up roadblocks to Democrat Joe Biden becoming president.
The calls began almost immediately after William P. Barr stepped down as attorney general in late December, and ended after the Jan. 6 insurrection at Congress, people familiar with them said.
Rosen was generally noncommittal, hearing the president out, while not promising to take any specific action in response, these people said. At times, they said, he would try to change the subject, but was usually unsuccessful. “Trump was absolutely obsessed about it,” one person with knowledge of the calls said.
One person familiar with the calls said Trump did not explicitly make any threats toward Rosen.
Trump was not the only one at the White House reaching out to the Justice Department about dubious claims of election vote tampering. Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff, at times forwarded public claims of potential voter fraud to Justice Department officials, which some officials found exasperating, according to previously released emails. Meadows’s defenders have said he was just letting the department know about possible instances of illegality.
Trump’s calls to Rosen show the degree to which the president was personally involved in such efforts, however, and the ways in which Justice Department officials walked a tightrope of listening to the president while not taking any concrete actions they considered unethical or partisan.
The conversations also offer new clues into the president’s mind-set in early January, when he entertained a plan to replace Rosen with a different senior lawyer at the department — Jeffrey Clark — who was more amenable to pursuing Trump’s unfounded claims of voter fraud. That possibility nearly touched off a crisis at the highest levels of federal law enforcement, people familiar with the matter have previously said.
The president was ultimately dissuaded from moving forward after a high-stakes meeting with those involved, those people said. Clark has denied that he devised a plan to oust Rosen, or that he formed “recommendations for action based on factual inaccuracies gleaned from the Internet.”
On Monday, Associate Deputy Attorney General Bradley Weinsheimer told Rosen in a letter: “You are authorized to provide information you learned while at the Department,” including “your knowledge of attempts to involve the Department in efforts to challenge or overturn the 2020 election results. This includes your knowledge of any such attempts by Department officials or by White House officials to engage in such efforts.”
The letter noted that the Senate Judiciary Committee is examining the time period after Dec. 14, 2020, when Barr announced he would leave the attorney general position. Barr officially left the job one week later, and Rosen took over as the acting head of the Justice Department. Trump had grown increasingly frustrated with Barr for not echoing or investigating his false claims of voter fraud — and even publicly disputing them.
The Justice Department letter noted that even former officials “are obligated to protect non-public information they learned in the course of their work,” and that they generally do not allow former officials to “disclose documents relating to such internal deliberations.”
However, the letter continues, the “extraordinary events in this matter constitute exceptional circumstances warranting an accommodation to Congress in this case,” including lawmakers’ effort to determine “whether former President Trump sought to cause the Department to use its law enforcement and litigation authorities to advance his personal political interests with respect to the results of the 2020 presidential election.”
As a result, the letter said, President Biden “has decided that it would not be appropriate to assert executive privilege with respect to communications with former President Trump and his advisors and staff on matters related to the scope of the Committees’ proposed interviews, notwithstanding the view of former President Trump’s counsel that executive privilege should be asserted to prevent testimony regarding these communications.”
Similar letters were sent to Donoghue and other Justice Department officials.
People close to Trump said discussions have already occurred about whether they should move to block the testimony and records from becoming public, but no final decision had been made.