On Jan. 3, days before Donald Trump’s supporters went on to ransack the U.S. Capitol, the president allegedly opened a high-stakes Oval Office meeting by complaining to his acting attorney general that he was doing nothing to help him “overturn” his election defeat by Joe Biden.
The extraordinary claim was made by former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in an interim report released by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday morning. It concludes that Trump and his top aides repeatedly put pressure on Justice Department officials to endorse his election conspiracy theories and help him reverse the result.
In one particularly egregious example, Rosen recalled that Trump opened an Oval Office meeting on the evening of Jan. 3 by complaining to the gathered officials: “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.” The meeting would end with several DOJ officials and White House counsel Pat Cipollone threatening to quit over Trump’s plan to replace Rosen with a MAGA loyalist.
Overall, the interim report lists nine calls and meetings with Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue between mid-December and early January in which Trump demanded help in his quest to delegitimize the election and remain in the White House.
In an excoriating conclusion, it states, “Beginning on the day former Attorney General William Barr announced his resignation and continuing almost until the January 6 insurrection, Trump directly and repeatedly asked DOJ’s acting leadership to initiate investigations, file lawsuits on his behalf, and publicly declare the 2020 election ‘corrupt.’”
“In attempting to enlist DOJ for personal, political purposes in an effort to maintain his hold on the White House, Trump grossly abused the power of the presidency. He also arguably violated the criminal provisions of the Hatch Act, which prevent any person—including the president—from commanding federal government employees to engage in political activity.”
Of the nine meetings and calls, two of them happened on one manic day— Jan. 3—by which time Trump had become obsessed with the idea of ditching Rosen and installing loyalist Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general.
The report states that Clark—who was, at the time, a little-known Justice Department official—held multiple meetings with Trump in the dying weeks of his presidency about how to reverse the result, and Clark allegedly urged bosses Rosen and Donoghue to falsely inform Georgia officials that the DOJ had identified “significant” issues with its election result.
According to the report, Rosen recalled that, on the afternoon of Jan. 3, Clark personally informed him that Trump had asked Clark to immediately take over as acting AG, then Rosen called Donoghue to tell him.
Donoghue recalled responding to Rosen, “Well, I guess that’s it. Are we going to find out [that we’re fired] in a tweet?” Donoghue added, “At that point, I went back to my office and I began taking things off the wall and put them in boxes, because I told the Acting AG I would immediately resign. There was no way I was going to serve under Jeff Clark.”
That night, Trump, Rosen, Donoghue, and Clark met in the Oval Office alongside White House lawyers Cipollone and Patrick Philbin. According to the report, Donoghue made it clear that all of the Assistant Attorneys General and multiple DOJ officials would resign if Trump went through with the plan. An attendee recalled that Cipollone indicated that he would also resign after he described the plan as a “murder-suicide pact.”
Eventually, Trump relented. Donoghue recalled that the president gave up on his plot to install Clark “very deep into the conversation.”