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Timeline: Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn the 2020 election

Attorney General William P. Barr, left, and White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, right, talk with Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen at the White House on May 22, 2019. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Nine months after the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, we continue to learn many new details of those and related efforts.

Those details paint an increasingly clear picture of a concerted effort to overturn — and lay a predicate for overturning — the election, after President Donald Trump’s claims almost universally failed in courts of law. The effort included attempts to politically weaponize the Justice Department and apply pressure on federal, state and local officials in the service of that goal.

The latest revelations: A Senate report showed Trump lamenting to then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen that Rosen wouldn’t help him “overturn the election,” and a Trump loyalist at DOJ both threatened that Rosen would be replaced and suggested it might not happen if Rosen released a letter legitimizing Trump’s voter-fraud claims, according to the testimony of Rosen and a top deputy.

The report is the first look at testimony from Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue. It also comes after we learned new details about a brazen effort by conservative lawyer John Eastman to provide a path for Vice President Mike Pence to help throw the election to Trump on Jan. 6.

Given how many moving parts are involved, it can be difficult to keep track of. So below is a timeline of all the major events we’ll keep updating as we get new details.

(And if we missed anything, email us here.)

Nov. 3: The election is held.

Nov. 7: Multiple media outlets confirm President Biden as the winner.

Nov. 9: Attorney General William P. Barr issues a memo saying the Justice Department will look into credible allegations of fraud that could impact the election results, weakening an existing DOJ policy against involving itself in election disputes.

Nov. 13: Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a Trump ally, calls Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) and asks him whether he has the power to toss out all mail ballots in certain counties, according to Raffensperger. Raffensperger later calls it an attempt to exclude legally cast ballots. “It sure looked like he was wanting to go down that road,” Raffensperger recalled.

Nov. 17: Trump calls the two Republican canvassers in Detroit-based Wayne County, Mich., shortly before they briefly rescind their votes to certify the election results.

Separately, Trump fires the Department of Homeland Security’s top official on election security, Christopher Krebs, after Krebs refuted his claims of a stolen election.

Nov. 19: Trump invites top Republican legislators from Michigan to meet with him at the White House, prompting them to state that they haven’t seen anything to call into question their state’s election results.

Nov. 30: Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) apparently receives a call from the White House while on video certifying his state’s election results, but ignores the call.

Dec. 1: Barr says in an interview that he has “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”

Barr later attends a previously scheduled meeting with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and is called to meet with Trump as well. Barr reiterates what he said in the interview, adding, according to a book by The Washington Post’s Carol D. Leonnig and Philip Rucker: “We’ve looked into these things, and they’re nonsense.”

Early December: Trump calls the speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives, Bryan Cutler (R), twice to talk about overturning that state’s results. Cutler informs Trump that the state legislature has no power to do so, according to an aide.

Dec. 4: Barr tells the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Byung J. “BJay” Pak, to make looking into Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani claims a “top priority,” according to Pak’s testimony.

Dec. 5: Trump calls Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) to pressure him to get the legislature to overturn the state’s election results.

Dec. 11: The Supreme Court rejects a suit brought by Texas and supported by GOP state attorneys general seeking to overturn the results in several states.

Dec. 14: The electoral college finalizes its votes, paving the way for Biden’s election and sending them to Congress.

Separately, Trump announces Barr will soon step down as attorney general, putting Rosen in line to replace him on an acting basis.

Dec. 15: Trump hosts Rosen in the Oval Office and reportedly tells him he wants the Justice Department to file legal briefs supporting Trump allies’ election lawsuits. Trump also urges Rosen to appoint special counsels to investigate his baseless claims, including ones involving voting-machine company Dominion. Rosen refuses and reiterates what Barr said about the lack of evidence for such steps.

In addition, Trump, who had recently become aware of Pence’s generally ceremonial role in presiding over Congress formalizing the electoral college vote, decides the vice president, as presiding officer of the Senate, is his best chance to overturn the election. He tells allies to pressure Pence, and the topic will come up frequently in their conversations over the following three weeks.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) congratulates Biden on his win, drawing Trump to respond on Twitter, “Too soon to give up. Republican Party must finally learn to fight. People are angry!”

Dec. 18: Trump and top aides meet with conspiracy-theorist supporters, including Michael Flynn and Sidney Powell, who discuss a number of extreme measures to overturn the election results, including instituting martial law and seizing voting machines.

Dec. 19: Trump tweets about protests planned for the day Congress finalizes the electoral college on Jan. 6, saying, “Be there. Will be wild!”

Dec. 22: Meadows visits Cobb County, Ga., where the Georgia secretary of state’s office later says it prevented him from entering a room where signature audits were being conducted. During the visit, Meadows meets with Georgia’s lead elections investigator, Frances Watson.

Dec. 23: Trump calls Watson and urges her to search hard for election fraud. “When the right answer comes out, you’ll be praised,” Trump says in a recording of the call, adding, “You have the most important job in the country right now.” Trump says he called at Meadows’s request. Watson later says she was “shocked” the president was calling her but didn’t feel pressured.

Separately, Barr departs as attorney general, elevating Rosen to acting attorney general.

Around this time: The head of the DOJ’s civil division, Jeffrey Clark, meets with Trump in the Oval Office, despite DOJ policy against unauthorized contacts between DOJ and the White House. He is joined by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who had pushed false claims of voter fraud.

Dec. 24: Trump calls Rosen, telling him to “make sure the Department is really looking into these things that you may have missed” and asking him if he knows Clark, according to Rosen’s testimony.

Dec. 26: Rosen calls Clark to ask him why Trump mentioned him, and Clark admits he met with Trump, per Rosen.

Dec. 27: Trump calls Rosen and top Justice Department officials in. According to Donoghue’s notes, Rosen pushes back on Trump’s entreaties, saying the department “can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election.” Trump responds that the department should “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me” and his allies.

In the meeting, Trump also seems to threaten to replace Justice Department leaders. He says, per Donoghue’s notes: “People tell me [the acting head of the department’s civil division] Jeff Clarke is great, I should put him in. People want me to replace DOJ leadership.”

Trump asks Donoghue for his cellphone number so people with information about supposed fraud can contact him, per Donoghue. Perry later calls Donoghue and suggests Clark be allowed to look into them, emailing him various baseless theories about what happened in Pennsylvania.

Dec. 28: Clark circulates a draft letter in which the Justice Department would urge Georgia’s legislature to hold a special session based on supposed “irregularities” in the vote. The letter includes what amounts to a road map for Georgia to overturn its election results, suggesting the legislature might ultimately choose a new slate of electors — i.e., for Trump.

Donoghue rejects the idea out of hand, noting in his emailed response that the supposed irregularities the department was investigating “are of such a small scale that they simply would not impact the outcome of the Presidential Election.” He adds, “There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this” and says sending the letter is “not even within the realm of possibility.”

Dec. 29: Trump aide Molly Michael emails Rosen, Donoghue and another Justice Department official a draft of a potential Supreme Court filing that would involve the Justice Department challenging the election results in six key states. Michael says Trump asked her to send the draft. An attorney who worked on the Texas case, Kurt Olsen, contacts Rosen at Trump’s behest about it. Rosen instructs aides to summarize the proposal.

Separately, Meadows meets with Justice Department officials including Rosen and Donoghue and mentions a baseless theory that a company in Italy combined with the CIA to rig the election.

Dec. 30: Meadows emails Rosen twice about theories about the election, including a translated letter from an Italian man with similar accusations involving “advanced military encryption capabilities.”

Separately, Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson asks Georgia Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs in a phone call whether there is anything the White House could do to show appreciation for those conducting the state’s audit, according to Reuters.

Olsen pressures Rosen to file the complaint with the Supreme Court by noon, according to Rosen, saying, “You’re going to force me to call the President and tell him you’re recalcitrant.”

The DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel rules the complaint has “no legal basis,” per Rosen, and Rosen informs Trump the DOJ will not file it.

Late December: Pence consults with former vice president Dan Quayle, a fellow Indianan, about efforts to get him to reject electors in certain states, according to a book by The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. Pence tells Quayle, “You don’t know the position I’m in.” Quayle tells him, “Mike, you have no flexibility on this. None. Zero. Forget it. Put it away.”

Dec. 31: Pence asks a judge to reject a lawsuit that aimed to expand his power to help overturn the election. Trump becomes livid.

Trump calls Rosen and Donoghue in and asks why they haven’t “found the fraud,” per Rosen.

Clark tells Rosen he has again spoken with Trump and that Trump asked him if he would be willing to replace Rosen, per Rosen. But according to Rosen, Clark said he wanted to “do some due diligence to see if maybe he would see things the same as Rich Donoghue and me.”

Around this time: Conservative lawyer John Eastman writes a memo detailing a path for Pence to reject the results from certain states and possibly allowing Trump to remain in office. The plan involves getting House Democrats to cry foul, at which point Pence would, citing constitutional process, allow the House to elect the president. Given the House has GOP majorities in 26 of 50 states and the vote would take place by delegation, it could allow for Trump to win.

Jan. 1: Meadows emails Rosen several times with theories about the election. He forwards Rosen a YouTube video of a former intelligence official who also promoted the idea that the election was stolen using satellites in Italy. Rosen shares the email with Donoghue, who responds, “Pure insanity.” Rosen states that he has learned the man behind the video, Brad Johnson, was working with Giuliani, but that he had declined a requested meeting with Johnson.

Shortly after the above email, Meadows again emails Rosen about “signature matching anomalies in Fulton county, Ga.,” and suggests Rosen have Clark, specifically, look into it. Rosen tells Donoghue of the email: “Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below.” Donoghue responds, apparently referring to the Italian-satellites theory, “At least it’s better than the last one, but that doesn’t say much.”

Another theory Meadows promotes involves New Mexico, which went for Biden by more than 10 points.

Trump tweets, “January 6th. See you in D.C.”

Jan. 2: Trump speaks with Georgia’s Raffensperger and urges him to find enough votes to call Biden’s victory there into question. “All I want to do is this: I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” Trump says in the recorded call. (Biden won Georgia by 11,779 votes.) Trump adds: “So what are we going to do here, folks? I only need 11,000 votes. Fellas, I need 11,000 votes. Give me a break.”

During the call, Trump also derides Pak, saying, “You have your never-Trumper U.S. attorney there.”

Clark presses Rosen and Donoghue on his Georgia letter saying, per Rosen, that “he might be able to say no [to the president about becoming acting attorney general], is if — that letter, if I reversed my position on the letter, which I was unwilling to do.”

Jan. 3: Clark informs Rosen that Trump has decided to replace Rosen with Clark, and that it would take place that day rather than as previously suggested on Jan. 4, per Rosen. Rosen responds that he will need to hear that from Trump.

Rosen instructs Donoghue and others to gauge who might resign over Trump’s plan.

During a White House meeting in which the DOJ officials say there will be mass resignations and White House counsel Pat Cipollone and others warn Trump about proceeding, Trump abandons the idea.

After the meeting, Donoghue sends an email to Pak saying, “Please call ASAP.” In a later phone call, Donoghue informs Pak that Trump is angry with Pak because Pak refused to support his claims of election fraud.

Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, and legal counsel Greg Jacob meet with Eastman to get a sense of what he might tell Trump in a planned meeting.

Late that night, after The Washington Post breaks news of the Raffensperger call, the White House leaves a voice mail stating that Trump would like to speak with Clint Hickman, the then-chairman of the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors in Arizona. Hickman declines to return the call, believing he would be pressured, as Raffensperger was.

Also late the night, Trump calls Donoghue and cites baseless claims that a Department of Homeland Security special agent had a truck full of shredded ballots in Atlanta, per Donoghue.

Jan. 4: Eastman meets with Trump and Pence. According to what Eastman later told the New York Times, Pence asks Eastman, “Do you think I have such power?” Eastman responds that he might but that it is legally untested and wouldn’t be worth trying unless the states in question had designated alternate electors. An anonymous Pence aide recalled that Eastman says Pence probably didn’t have the power, to which Pence responds, “Did you hear that, Mr. President?”

Pak abruptly resigns. Pak later testified he had been told Trump intended to fire him because he had investigated voter-fraud allegations in Fulton County, Ga., but found nothing to back up Trump’s allegations and refused to publicly support them.

Jan. 5: Trump angrily vents to Pence and aides about Pence’s refusal to toe his line on rejecting electors. He also takes the effort public, tweeting, “The Vice President has the power to reject fraudulently chosen electors.”

Trump bypasses Pak’s top deputy, who would normally succeed Pak, appointing instead the U.S. attorney for Georgia’s Southern District, Bobby L. Christine. (Christine would later tell staff members that “there’s just nothing to” the claims of fraud in the area.)

Jan. 6: Trump speaks with Pence multiple times in the morning and presses his case on overturning the election. Pence continues to refuse, eventually releasing a statement saying he cannot do what he’s being asked to do.

In the early afternoon, as Congress meets, the U.S. Capitol is overrun by Trump supporters seeking to overturn the election, shortly after speeches by Trump, Giuliani and other promoters of baseless claims that the election was stolen.

During the riot — and as Congress still hadn’t finished its business — Trump attacks Pence in a tweet. “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution,” Trump says. The tweet came shortly after Pence was evacuated amid the unrest. Rioters were later revealed to have chanted, “Hang Mike Pence.”

When Congress reconvenes after the riot, some Republicans continue to object to accepting the results in certain states, but Biden’s election is finalized.

This post has been updated.