Below are some key takeaways, with more to come as we comb through the report.
1. Jeffrey Clark as Trump’s willing pawn
Perhaps the report’s biggest disclosure involves something we already knew a bit about: Clark’s willingness to be a pawn in Trump’s effort to overturn the election.
But while we previously knew Clark was a willing participant in trying to get DOJ to legitimize the baseless claims Trump was making — including by suggestions that Rosen would be replaced with Clark if Rosen didn’t play ball — the report suggests it was even more explicit than that.
According to the testimony, Clark continued to speak with Trump after being told not to by his superiors. He also at one point appeared to both threaten and bargain with Rosen and Donoghue to release a letter backing up Trump’s baseless claims casting doubt on the election results in Georgia. (The letter was never sent.)
Here’s Donoghue’s testimony. Note the rather clear implication that this was a threat:
I reminded [Clark] that I was his boss, that he was apparently continuing to violate the White House contact policy, that that letter was never going out while we were in charge of the Department. And I sort of orally reprimanded him on a number of points, including reaching out to witnesses, and [said] “Who told you to conduct investigations and interview witnesses,” and things like that. I was getting very heated. And then he turned to Acting AG Rosen, and he said, “Well, the President has offered me the position of Acting Attorney General. I told him I would let him know my decision on Monday. I need to think about that a little bit more.”
Rosen also testified that Clark suggested he might opt not to take Trump up on his offer if DOJ released the Georgia letter:
Q: So Jeff Clark framed it as a choice he was giving you, to essentially either go along with the letter that you had previously rejected and sign it under your own name, or he will presumably take the President up on his offer to be installed in your place. Is that how you understood it?ROSEN: Close to that. That he was saying that having done some due diligence as he requested, that he wasn’t satisfied that Rich Donoghue and I were on this, but that he still wasn’t sure what his answer would be on it. And he raised another thing that he might point to, that he might be able to say no [to the President], is if – that letter, if I reversed my position on the letter, which I was unwilling to do.
Clark has not offered his version of events to the committee through his own testimony.
We knew Rosen was informed that he might be replaced, but Donoghue’s and Rosen’s testimonies reinforce this was indeed a stick that Trump and Clark tried to wield to get what they wanted — and rather explicitly.
Donoghue testified that, by Jan. 3, the connection between the Georgia letter and Rosen’s firing was even more readily apparent. He said, “It wasn’t as if there was a third option where Jeff Clark would become the Acting Attorney General and the letter would not go. They were sort of one and the same at that point.”
2. Trump’s own explicit comment that Rosen wouldn’t ‘overturn the election’
In case the above didn’t make it clear how much Trump and Clark sought to use DOJ to overturn the election, one comment from Trump himself makes it abundantly clear.
Rosen recounted that, at one point, Trump lamented his refusal to assist in not just questioning the election results but — in Trump’s own words — “overturning the election.”
“According to Rosen, Trump opened the [Jan. 3] meeting by saying, “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.”
A transcript of his testimony shows Rosen twice described Trump using that phrase. “One thing we know is [with] Jeff Rosen leading the Justice Department, nothing is going to get done in trying to overturn the election,” Rosen cited Trump as saying. When asked to re-state it, he offered the quote above.
The objection wasn’t just that Rosen wouldn’t send a letter raising concerns about what happened in Georgia; it was that he wouldn’t do “anything to overturn the election.” And this, importantly, wasn’t just an offhand comment; it was how Trump began the meeting.
Add that to what Donoghue reported Trump said to Rosen and Donoghue on Dec. 27 — “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me” — and it fills out the picture.
Republicans have tried to play down their questioning the election results — and voting against certifying them in certain states — by saying it was about raising supposedly legitimate concerns and not necessarily overturning the election. Here, in Trump’s own words as recounted by Rosen and Donoghue, was the president saying what he really wanted from the Justice Department.
3. The inescapable, combined conclusion: A concerted effort to subvert democracy
It’s important to emphasize that this report doesn’t land in a vacuum. In fact, next to several other recent disclosures, it demonstrates a clear and multifaceted effort to use any tool available to overturn the election.
The biggest revelation came in “Peril,” the new book from The Washington Post’s Bob Woodward and Robert Costa. It was that a conservative legal expert named John Eastman prepared a memo for the White House arguing that Vice President Mike Pence could break with tradition and simply reject electoral votes from specific states. We knew this was something Pence opted not to do, but we hadn’t known just how brazen the effort was.
The proposed effort involved Pence rejecting certain states and then, when Democratic House members objected, Pence simply declaring that the House should decide who the president would be, as it is supposed to do in elections in which no candidate gets a majority of electoral votes. (While Democrats control the House, the process gives one vote to each state delegation, and Republicans had majorities in 26 of the 50 delegations.)
Mr. Eastman recalled getting in touch with Mr. Pence’s legal counsel Mr. Jacob the next day about whether Mr. Pence could delay the certification.“I think Jacob was looking for a way for he and Pence to be convinced to take the action that we were requesting, and so I think he continued to meet with me and push back on the arguments and hear my counters, what have you, to try and see whether they could reconcile themselves to what the president had asked,” Mr. Eastman said.
According to the Woodward-Costa book, Pence also agonized over the decision in a phone call with former vice president Dan Quayle, telling him, “You don’t know the position I’m in.”
Both the Pence and DOJ gambits were extraordinary, and they were linked: Trying to get a Justice Department that doesn’t generally handle election disputes involved in officially questioning states’ results — and possibly appointing alternative electors — all while arguing that Pence could then use the DOJ-legitimized controversy to throw the results into doubt and allow Republicans in the House to effectively elect the new president.
All of these details — and the growing body of evidence — reinforce that this was precisely what we thought it was: an effort to use baseless claims to overturn an American election.