The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Shocking new Trump-DOJ revelations should shape the Jan. 6 investigation

Supporters of then-President Donald Trump try to breach police lines at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6. (John Minchillo/AP)

We’re now learning that Donald Trump went to extraordinarily corrupt lengths to enlist the Justice Department’s help in overturning his 2020 loss. This is filling in important details about Trump’s months-long campaign to retain the presidency via highly dubious legal manipulation, to remain in power illegitimately.

But it should also deepen our understanding of what came next: his effort to foment mob violence to accomplish that end. And this underscores how little we really know about the sweeping series of events leading up to the worst outbreak of political violence in modern U.S. history.

So it is that Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the select committee examining the Jan. 6 insurrection, tells me that Trump’s efforts to employ the Justice Department to subvert the election will figure into the committee’s accounting.

“Our committee will definitely want to understand Trump’s efforts to manipulate the department as part of the attack on the election leading up to Jan. 6,” Raskin said in an interview.

Follow Greg Sargent's opinionsFollow

The latest revelations are astounding. The New York Times reported over the weekend that Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general during Trump’s final days, has privately testified to new details about a senior department official’s effort to help Trump subvert the election. That testimony was to the department’s inspector general and the Senate Judiciary Committee.

It was already known that this official — Jeffrey Clark, acting head of the department’s civil division — worked to subvert the election. Clark sought to devise ways to undermine trust in the outcome, leading Trump to consider replacing Rosen with Clark, though Trump backed off under threat of mass resignations.

We also learned last week that Clark drafted a Justice Department letter announcing that the department had supposedly “identified significant concerns” about voting in Georgia. The letter informed Georgia state legislators that they had the authority to hold a special session to reconsider the appointment of presidential electors.

That appeared to be an effort to use the Justice Department’s stature to validate the idea that Georgia state legislators should consider appointing a rogue slate of electors, in defiance of the state’s popular vote outcome, on the grounds that the outcome was dubious, which it wasn’t.

But it gets worse. The latest revelation, from Rosen’s private testimony, is that those machinations occurred amid direct collaboration with Trump. As the Times reports, Rosen disclosed that Clark had been “engaging in unauthorized conversations” with Trump about how the department might “publicly cast doubt on President Biden’s victory.”

Trump’s true intent

This involvement of Trump is crying out for more scrutiny. And, importantly, Democrats see this scrutiny as central to understanding not just his election subversion effort, but also his incitement of the Jan. 6 attack.

That’s because these revelations go to the core of Trump’s true intent. The idea was to accomplish through intimidation and violence what all other efforts had failed to do: Disrupt the count of electors in Congress and the official certification of Trump’s loss.

“Trump wanted to use the Department of Justice to delegitimize the election,” Raskin told me. Raskin noted that those earlier machinations help “reveal his intent to overthrow our democratic process.”

Raskin declined to say whether the select committee will seek to hear from Rosen and Clark, presumably to avoid tipping the committee’s hand. But he noted that these new revelations underscore Trump’s intent on Jan. 6 with fresh clarity.

That’s why the select committee will examine them. After all, its mission is to examine the “circumstances” and “causes” of this effort to overturn the U.S. constitutional order with violence.

The plot involving Pence

Raskin pointed out key context: While exhorting the mob to descend on the Capitol, Trump repeatedly directed its rage at then-Vice President Mike Pence, while again urging Pence to use his phantom powers to invalidate the count of electors (which Pence announced he couldn’t do).

That came after Trump had repeatedly tried other means of subverting the count of electors, such as pressuring GOP state legislatures to send separate slates of them. As Raskin notes, Trump spent months trying to concoct a pretext for invalidating the electoral count: The effort to get the Justice Department to “announce” that the Georgia voting was dubious would fit the bill.

“He wanted DOJ to declare the election corrupt in order to help him coerce Mike Pence to reject specific results coming from the states,” Raskin told me, adding that this was likely intended to also give Pence “cover” to reject those electoral votes.

The full story will be told in due course. Which is essential, because we’re trapped in this strange public debate in which Trump’s incitement of the mob is still sometimes described as an effort simply to get it to express its displeasure over Trump’s loss — or, even more absurdly, to emotionally act out its alleged “belief” that Trump really won.

But one of the attack’s “causes” is that Trump actually did want to subvert the count of electors to thwart a legitimately elected government from taking over. A full accounting of his effort to accomplish this via mob violence will of necessity include all the other episodes in which he established this intent beyond any reasonable doubt.