For months, Trump has been on a political jihad. It began the night of the election and has never ended. The latest disclosures offer a reminder that it was the president himself who was doing the most to corrupt the election results. The House select committee and other investigations are one way to begin to hold him more accountable.
These revelations are from notes kept by then-acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, top aide to then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, including a conversation the two men had with Trump on Dec. 27. The documents were provided by the Justice Department to Congress and released publicly on Friday.
Post journalists Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey had reported on Wednesday the existence of the notes, describing Trump as in regular, almost daily, contact with DOJ officials as he pressed them to investigate and prove various (false) claims of election irregularities. In that Dec. 27 conversation, Trump was told that the information he had about fraud claims was not accurate. Trump replied, according to the notes: “You guys may not be following the Internet the way I do.”
Trump was told further that the department would not and could not simply “snap its fingers” and change the outcome of the election. Trump said he understood but nonetheless wanted the department to “just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. congressmen,” according to Donoghue’s summary of the conversation.
These revelations are like others that have been made public, the rantings of an angry losing candidate. They spark momentary outrage but then seem to fade. After all, the system held. But every such piece of evidence that comes to light adds to the pattern of a president obsessed with having lost the election and willing, even determined, to undermine the integrity of the election process — of democracy itself — to retain his power.
Trump waged a public campaign of lies and falsehoods and, as the DOJ notes underscore anew, a behind-the-scenes campaign to pressure federal, state or local officials, hoping someone in an official capacity would offer a patina of credibility to those unproved or often disproved claims of fraud.
Trump’s goal was to delay or disrupt the final stage in the post-election vote-counting process. That last step was to take place on Jan. 6 before a joint session of Congress, with Vice President Mike Pence presiding. That was the day Congress was to affirm the electoral college vote count, sealing the victory of Joe Biden and closing the last door on the defeated incumbent.
Trump’s strategy to force a postponement ultimately failed. Congress completed its work in the early hours of Jan. 7, but not before the deadly attack on the Capitol by armed supporters of the president.
Trump’s efforts to hector election officials has dribbled out over a period of months, revelations produced by dogged reporting by journalists, by comments from public officials and by reports contained in the new books about Trump’s last days in power that have been published this summer. They all show a desperate president, flailing about as power slipped from his grasp.
In the weeks after the election, Trump had pressured Rosen’s predecessor, William P. Barr, who eventually said publicly the department had investigated various allegations and found no evidence of fraud big enough to change the election results (and has since been reported to say it was all a crock). Barr resigned as attorney general just before Christmas, leaving the department in the hands of Rosen and Donoghue.
Trump’s efforts weren’t limited to the Justice Department, as everyone knows. He publicly upbraided Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) for certifying the election results in that state after multiple recounts. He was critical of Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) for doing the same. Just before Christmas, he called the lead election investigator in the office of Brad Raffensperger, Georgia’s Republican secretary of state.
One of Trump’s most blatant interventions came Jan. 2, when he pleaded with Raffensperger to find enough votes to turn an 11,779-vote loss into a victory. “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have,” he said. “Because we won the state.” The Post’s Amy Gardner obtained an audio recording of the conversation the next day.
Trump did not stop once he was out of office. He has repeatedly promoted a disputed review of the ballots in Arizona’s Maricopa County, ordered by the Republicans in the state Senate and conducted by an outside contractor. The review, nearing its conclusion, has been hobbled by controversy. Trump was in Arizona last week and predicted the results would prove his claims and lead to more such reviews. “This is only the beginning of the irregularities,” he said.
Just as Justice Department officials pushed back, not all Republicans have been receptive to Trump’s pleadings. He criticized Republican legislative leaders in Wisconsin for not ordering the kind of ballot review that has taken place in Arizona. Those legislators pushed back. Some Republicans in Michigan, another state Trump has complained about, have also given him the brushoff. But he gives no indication that he will cease. Raffensperger repeatedly stood up to Trump and now faces a Trump-endorsed primary challenger.
The notes about Trump’s conversation with Rosen and Donoghue that were released Friday are intriguing. What did Trump mean when he said, “leave the rest to me and the R. congressmen.” What did Trump have in mind, beyond trying to bend Pence to act beyond his constitutional authorization and send the vote counts back to states, which Pence refused to do?
The Justice Department said last week that it would not assert executive privilege for Rosen, Donoghue and other former officials in the Trump administration to prevent them from testifying before congressional committees. The two former Justice Department officials are likely to be called to testify relatively soon. Others who served Trump will likely face subpoenas from the House select committee, though challenges could drag out the process.
The broad outlines of Trump’s effort to subvert the election are known and have been known. A substantial portion of the Republican base believes Biden did not win legitimately. Many congressional Republicans voted to challenge some of the electoral college results hours after the Capitol had been attacked. They say it’s time to move on.
As with so much of Trump’s presidency, much of what he did to attack the institutions of democracy after the election was there for all to see. The new information is a reminder, however, that not everything he did was done in plain sight. How much more is there?
The value of a full investigation into what happened leading up to and including Jan. 6 is to tell the story whole. It is a story that begins not with the marauders who overwhelmed law enforcement officials at the Capitol. It begins long before and with Donald Trump. If it were not for him and what he did to try to subvert the election, it is doubtful the Capitol would have needed defending on Jan. 6.