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Trump told Justice Department to ‘just say that the election was corrupt’ and ‘leave the rest to me’

‘DOJ can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way,’ official tells Trump during December phone call

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Friday 30 July 2021 20:04 BST
Related video: Watergate reporter Carl Bernstein calls Donald Trump an ‘American war criminal’
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Former President Donald Trump pressured his incoming acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to say that the 2020 election was corrupt as he tried to aid Republican members of Congress in their attempt to overturn President Joe Biden’s electoral victory, notes from a call in December last year show.

The call on 27 December 2020 was between Mr Trump, Mr Rosen, and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue. The Justice Department, now under the leadership of Attorney General Merrick Garland, provided Mr Donoghue’s handwritten notes of the call to the House Oversight Committee.

Mr Rosen and Mr Donoghue ascended to the top spots at the DOJ after the resignation of Attorney General Bill Barr on 23 December 2020. At the time of the call, Mr Trump had just over three weeks left in the White House.

Mr Trump told Mr Rosen and Mr Donoghue to say that the election had been “illegal” and “corrupt”, despite a lack of evidence for this claim and that election security experts had said that the election had been conducted in a safe, free, and fair manner.

The Department of Justice had not been able to find widespread voter fraud following Mr Trump’s consistent false claims that fraud was the reason he lost.

Mr Donoghue’s notes state that Mr Trump said: “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.”

The contemporaneous notes are the latest evidence that Mr Trump worked hard to overturn the election, pressuring various officials in an attempt to stay in office despite the voters’ verdict.

The efforts of Mr Trump to overturn the results are now part of an investigation by the select committee looking into the events of 6 January, the day a pro-Trump mob violently laid siege to the US Capitol in Washington, DC in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Mr Biden’s election victory.

Mr Trump’s false voter fraud claims are also under investigation by the House Oversight Committee, to which the handwritten notes were provided by the DOJ.

“These handwritten notes show that President Trump directly instructed our nation’s top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency,” House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney said in a statement.

During the call, Mr Trump pressured Mr Donoghue and Mr Rosen on claims of voter fraud that their department had already proven were not true.

Mr Donoghue told Mr Trump that the Department of Justice didn’t have the authority to overturn the election. Mr Trump replied he wasn’t expecting the department to take that step. He then urged them “just say that the election was corrupt” and to “leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen”, according to Mr Donoghue’s notes.

While Mr Trump didn’t specify who the “R Congressmen” were, during another part of the call, the then-president called Ohio Representative Jim Jordan a “fighter”. He also lauded Pennsylvania Rep Scott Perry, who was pushing the false claim that the election was stolen, and Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson, for “getting to bottom of things”.

While Mr Jordan voted to overturn the election results in certain states, his spokesman Russell Dye said, “Congressman Jordan did not, has not, and would not pressure anyone at the Justice Department about the 2020 election,” The New York Times reported. “He continues to agree with President Trump that it is perfectly appropriate to raise concerns about election integrity.”

Mr Perry has continually said that Mr Trump won the election, but has not been connected to the Trump White House’s attempts to change the outcome. Mr Johnson has recognized Mr Biden as president.

Mr Trump said during the call that “corrupted elections” had taken place in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona – to which Mr Donoghue said that “much of the info you’re getting is false”.

He added that the DOJ had done “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews” and not found any evidence of Mr Trump’s claims.

The notes say that the DOJ officials told Mr Trump that “we look at allegations but they don’t pan out”.

Mr Trump had claimed that the ballot error rate in Michigan was 68 per cent. The DOJ instead found that the actual rate was 0.0063 per cent, and also didn’t find any evidence for a variety of other claims and conspiracy theories.

“Ok fine – but what about the others?” Mr Trump said, according to the notes, and he asked Mr Donoghue to go to Fulton County, Georgia, which includes Atlanta, to verify ballot signatures.

Mr Trump said that those who were “saying that the election isn’t corrupt are corrupt”, and that the DOJ needed to take action. “Not much time left.”

Mr Donoghue said that the DOJ would quickly be able to verify that there weren’t more ballots cast in Pennsylvania than there were voters.

“Should be able to check on that quickly, but understand that the DOJ can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way,” he noted.

Mr Trump was also told that the DOJ couldn’t support a lawsuit challenging the election results.

“We are not in a position based on the evidence,” the officials said. “We can only act on the actual evidence developed.”

Mr Trump criticised the officials, saying that “thousands of people called” their US attorney’s office to complain about the election and that “nobody trusts the FBI,” adding “people are angry – blaming DOJ for inaction,” the notes say.

“You guys may not be following the internet the way I do,” the then-president said.

“People tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in,” he added about the acting chief of the department’s civil division. Mr Clark had also urged the DOJ officials to take action.

“People want me to replace DOJ leadership,” Mr Trump said.

“You should have the leadership you want,” Mr Donoghue responded but added that it “won’t change the dept’s position”.

Mr Rosen and Mr Donoghue were unaware that Mr Perry had introduced Mr Clark to the then-president. One week later, they battled Mr Clark to keep their jobs in the Oval Office, The New York Times reported.

Mr Trump also said during the call that the DOJ needed to “figure out what to do” with Hunter Biden, son of Joe Biden. “People will criticize the DOJ if he’s not investigated for real,” Mr Trump said.

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