Repeatedly, the former acting deputy attorney general’s name has surfaced in notes and emails repudiating the effort to call the election results into question in no uncertain terms.
The building record of Donoghue’s resistance to the gambit makes him one of the most eagerly anticipated witnesses in the investigation. Trump’s team has for now signaled it won’t fight such testimony.
Donoghue’s name has surfaced in two separate instances in recent days.
First, over the weekend, came notes he had written during a December meeting with Trump in which, according to Donoghue’s notes, Trump urged the Justice Department to “just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R[epublican] Congressmen.”
Trump at one point appeared to suggest an overhaul of Justice Department leadership if they didn’t comply, saying, according to Donoghue’s notes, “People tell me Jeff Clarke [sic] is great, I should put him in. People want me to replace DOJ leadership.”
The note refers to Jeffrey Clark, then the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, who has emerged as the most prominent real-time supporter of Trump’s claims in the Justice Department. Soon after the meeting described above, Trump indeed floated inserting Clark as new acting attorney general, drawing resignation threats from top Justice Department officials, including Donoghue. The idea was abandoned.
Donoghue’s notes include two apparent responses to Trump’s suggestion: “Fine, but won’t change the [department’s] position,” and “you should have the leadership you want.”
The other big revelation this week involves a highly unorthodox draft letter from Clark. In it, Clark sought to urge the Georgia state legislature to call a special session to look at potentially overturning the election results in their state. As The Washington Post’s Philip Bump wrote, the proposed letter appears to be the latest in a series of thinly veiled attempts among Trump allies to lay a predicate for getting Congress not to accept the election results Jan. 6.
But Donoghue again flatly objected. He wrote in response that the alleged “irregularities” Clark based his draft letter upon “are of such a small scale that they simply would not impact the outcome of the Presidential Election.” He also said, even setting that aside, that it was hardly the Justice Department’s business to urge a state legislature to take such actions based upon investigations the department generally would never comment upon.
“There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this,” Donoghue said. He added for emphasis that the Justice Department releasing the letter was “not even within the realm of possibility.”
As Bump rightly notes, Donoghue’s response carries all the indicators of a guy who know this correspondence might one day be made public — and perhaps wanted to make sure he was on the right side of history.
But it’s hardly the first example of that.
According to emails revealed in June, shortly after the above exchanges the White House began peppering the Justice Department with a series of conspiracy theories it wanted examined — another highly unorthodox set of circumstances pointing to its effort to enlist the Justice Department in a political effort. Among the theories that then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows saw fit to share with the nation’s top law enforcers was a particularly bizarre claim that the election was hacked using satellites in Italy.
When then-acting attorney general Jeffrey A. Rosen shared the email from Meadows with Donoghue, Donoghue responded, “Pure insanity.”
About an hour later, Meadows shared previously debunked claims about “signature matching anomalies in Fulton county, Ga.”
“Can you believe this?” Rosen wrote to Donoghue. “I am not going to respond to the message below.”
Donoghue responded: “At least it’s better than the last one, but that doesn’t say much.”
Donoghue has thus far largely allowed his notes and other correspondence to do the talking for him. But last month, he joined former attorney general William P. Barr in denying the latest claim du jour from the Trump side. It came from a former U.S. attorney in Pennsylvania, William McSwain, who suggested that his superiors at the Justice Department had stifled efforts to investigate election fraud. McSwain, in the course of seeking Trump’s support for a run for governor, wrote Trump a letter detailing the supposed effort.
But Barr denied it repeatedly. He said McSwain told him personally that it was an effort to avoid Trump’s opposition in the gubernatorial campaign. Barr also said McSwain cited a conversation with Donoghue for the claim.
But Donoghue then went on the record as well, telling The Post, “While I was made aware of allegations relating to conduct in Delaware County (Pa.), I did not preclude DOJ personnel in Pennsylvania from investigating allegations of criminal misconduct relating to the 2020 elections …”
As with any official who keeps such notes or weighs in on such claims, the question is whether they are proactively trying to combat something unsavory — and perhaps even blowing the whistle on it — or merely seeking to insulate themselves from anything that might one day result. We’ve seen before that people we thought might be motivated witnesses against Trump clam up a bit and decline the harsh spotlight that comes with criticizing the efforts of the former president.
But Donoghue’s centrality to these efforts and his clear attempts to distance himself from anything that might become of them — apparently growing more exasperated with them over time — suggest he might be an intriguing witness. What we know today suggests he went further than Rosen in documenting the effort to fight back, though Trump spoke with Rosen frequently.
And if nothing else, the still-growing number of revelations showing just how desperate and far-flung Trump’s effort was suggest there’s plenty more to uncover via testimony like Donoghue’s.