But even as the brazen plot has increasingly been laid bare, some big questions about it remain.
The largest of which, for now, is just how much Jeffrey Clark coordinated with Trump and the White House.
Perhaps the most significant testimony we have yet to get is from Clark, the acting head of the DOJ’s civil division who emerged as a key player in pushing the department to echo Trump’s voter-fraud claims.
The overarching defense of Trump offered by the GOP on Thursday was this: Trump didn’t actually follow through on his plot. And in fact, the argument goes, he not only pulled back on firing Rosen and replacing him with Clark, but he even decided the Justice Department shouldn’t release a letter from Clark calling the election results in Georgia into question. That letter could have been used to push for Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to reject the election results in Georgia and other states and, theoretically (according to John Eastman’s memo), even reinstall him as president.
As we wrote Thursday, though, the reason Trump pulled back on replacing Rosen with Clark and releasing the letter was not so much that it was the wrong thing to do. Rather, it was apparently that the plot wouldn’t work — in large part because it would spur mass resignations.
“It’s going to be a disaster,” Trump conceded after being persuaded not to fire Rosen and release the letter, according to Donoghue’s testimony. “You’re not going to be able to get this stuff done anyway, and the bureaucracy will eat you alive. So we’re not going to do this.”
Given that’s apparently going to be the GOP defense, though, it’s worth knowing more about just how much this plot was coordinated with Trump and the White House. Trump might have ultimately decided against doing what it took to get that letter out, but the argument seems to imply this was Clark freelancing.
The reality is that Clark and Trump spoke multiple times before this meeting — even as DOJ has a policy against this and he was told not to, and even shortly before he proposed the Georgia letter.
To recap, from the timeline:
- Dec. 23 (approximately): Clark meets with Trump in the Oval Office.
- Dec. 27: Trump suggestively floats replacing Rosen with Clark while meeting with Rosen and Donoghue. Also, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) calls and asks Donoghue to let Clark look into such claims in Pennsylvania.
- Dec. 28: Clark emails Rosen and Donoghue about a draft letter he wants the Justice Department to send urging Georgia’s legislature to call a special session to address supposed election irregularities. Rosen and Donoghue reject the idea out of hand.
- Dec. 31: Clark tells Rosen he has spoken with Trump again — and that Trump asked him if he would be interested in taking over as acting attorney general.
- Jan. 1: White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows asks Rosen to allow Clark to investigate supposed voting issues in Fulton County, Ga.
- Jan. 2: Clark tells Rosen and Donoghue that Trump has offered him the job of acting attorney general, according to Donoghue’s testimony, but he says he might turn down Trump’s offer if Rosen agrees to send the Georgia letter, per Rosen’s testimony.
It’s about this point that both Rosen and Donoghue say they came to understand that the proposed replacement of Rosen with Clark and the Georgia letter were intertwined. (“They were sort of one and the same at that point,” Rosen testified.) And that makes complete sense. To make good on the plot to overturn the election results in Congress on Jan. 6, Trump needed something to legitimize his allegations. Those allegations had been consistently rebuked in court and debunked by fact-checkers, so getting an official DOJ letter to substantiate them would have been huge.
The fact that Clark apparently bargained with Rosen on the issue on Jan. 2 also reinforces that. Why would Clark give up the chance to become acting attorney general just to get a letter released? That’s a lot to give up — unless you’re trying to deliver something the president has made clear he really wants.
It’s certainly theoretically possible Clark was doing this because he actually thought there was significant fraud — despite all the evidence to the contrary — or because he simply thought it might be something Trump would like.
But did the letter not come up in his talks with Trump? It simply fit too neatly with what Trump was trying to do.
Unfortunately, Clark has yet to testify and is resisting it. But his version of events is vital. And to the extent Trump might have blessed the effort to push out the Georgia letter, it would certainly bolster the already well-proven fact that he went to great lengths to meddle in the Justice Department to overturn the election.
It’s also worth emphasizing that, despite the GOP’s defense saying Trump didn’t follow through, it looks like he kind of did. Clark informed Rosen on Jan. 3 that Trump was indeed installing him to replace Rosen that day, according to Rosen’s testimony, before Trump was ultimately talked out of it.
That sounds a lot like Trump taking concrete action to force the Justice Department to assist him politically in his efforts to retain the presidency. And it’s difficult to imagine Clark just made it up that Trump was installing him or got his signals crossed. It is more likely that Trump did indeed set this plan in motion before he reversed course.
And not because it was too brazen an effort to overturn an election, mind you, but because he became convinced Clark was “not going to be able to get this stuff done anyway.”