Trump Pressed Justice Dept. to Declare Election Results Corrupt, Notes Show
WASHINGTON – President Donald J. Trump urged senior Justice Department officials late last year to declare the election corrupt even though they found no cases of widespread fraud, so that he and his allies in Congress could use the assertion in an attempt to reverse the outcome, according to new documents provided to lawmakers and obtained by The New York Times.
The requests were an extraordinary case of a president interfering with an agency that is generally more independent of the White House to advance his personal agenda. They are also the latest example of Mr. Trump’s sweeping campaign during his final weeks in office to delegitimize election results.
The exchange took place during a December 27 phone call in which Mr. Trump lobbied then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen and his deputy, Richard P. Donoghue, on allegations of electoral fraud that the ministry had refuted. Mr. Donoghue warned that the ministry did not have the power to change the outcome of the election. Mr Trump replied that he did not expect it, according to notes taken by Mr Donoghue to commemorate the conversation.
“Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me” and to Congressional allies, Donoghue wrote, summarizing Mr. Trump’s response.
Mr. Trump did not name lawmakers, but at other times during the call he mentioned Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom he described as a “fighter”; Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who at the time promoted the idea that the election had been stolen from Mr. Trump; and Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, whom Mr. Trump praised for “getting to the bottom of it.”
The notes link Mr. Trump’s allies in Congress to his campaign to pressure Justice Department officials to help undermine or even overturn election results.
Lawmakers did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr Jordan ultimately voted to overturn election results in key states, but downplayed his role in the president’s lobbying campaign. Mr Perry continues to claim that Mr Trump won, but has not been directly linked to the White House’s efforts to keep him in office. And Mr Johnson, whom Mr Trump recently endorsed as he considers running for a third term, maintains it is reasonable to question the integrity of the election, although he has acknowledged Joseph R. Biden Jr. as president.
The Justice Department provided Mr. Donoghue’s notes to the House Oversight and Reform Committee, which is investigating the Trump administration’s efforts to illegally overturn election results.
Typically, the department has fought to keep any records of private discussions between a president and his cabinet secret in order to avoid setting a precedent that would prevent those in charge of future administrations from frankly notifying presidents for fear that their conversations are later made public.
But delivering the notes to Congress is part of a model for examining Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the election. Biden’s Justice Department also told Mr. Rosen, Mr. Donoghue and other former officials this week that they could testify without restriction to investigators on the House Oversight and Reform Committees and committees. judicial proceedings of the Senate.
The department felt congressional investigators were looking into potential wrongdoing by a sitting president, an extraordinary circumstance, according to letters sent to former officials. Because executive privilege is meant to benefit the country, rather than the president as an individual, invoking it against Mr. Trump’s efforts to advance his personal agenda would be inappropriate, the department concluded.
“These handwritten notes show that President Trump has directly called on our country’s leading law enforcement agency to take action to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency,” said Representative Carolyn Maloney , New York Democrat and chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said in a statement.
Mr. Trump’s conversation with Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue reflected his steadfast desire to overturn the election results. At one point, Mr. Trump alleged electoral fraud in Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Arizona, which he called “corrupt elections.” Mr. Donoghue pushed back.
“Most of the information you get is false,” Donoghue said, adding that the department had conducted “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews” and found no evidence to back up his claims. “We are looking into the allegations but they do not materialize,” officials told Trump, according to the notes.
The department found Michigan’s ballot count error rate to be 0.0063%, not the 68% the president claimed; he found no evidence of a conspiracy theory that a Pennsylvania employee tampered with ballots; and after reviewing the video and interviewing witnesses, he found no evidence of voter fraud in Fulton County, Ga., according to the notes.
Mr. Trump, undeterred, brushed aside the department’s findings. “Okay, but what about the others?” Mr. Donoghue wrote in his notes describing what the president said. Mr. Trump asked Mr. Donoghue to travel to Fulton County to verify the signatures on the ballots.
The people “who say the election is not corrupt are corrupt,” Trump told officials, adding they must act. “There’s not much time left.”
At another point, Donoghue said the department could quickly verify or refute the claim that more ballots were cast in Pennsylvania than there are voters.
“He should be able to check this out quickly, but understand that the DOJ can’t and won’t snap their fingers and change the election result, it doesn’t work that way,” Donoghue wrote in his notes. .
Officials also told Mr Trump that the Justice Department had no evidence to support a trial regarding the election results. “We are not in an evidence-based position. We can only act on the basis of the real evidence developed, ”they said.
Mr Trump lambasted officials, saying “thousands of people have called” their local US attorney’s offices to complain about the election and “no one trusts the FBI.”
“You might not be following the internet like I do,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document.
In a foreshadowing moment, Mr Trump said: “People tell me Jeff Clark is awesome, I should put him on,” referring to the acting head of the Justice Department’s civilian division, who had also encouraged the Ministry officials to intervene in the elections. . “People want me to replace the GM leadership. “
“You should have the leadership you want,” replied Donoghue. But that “will not change the position of the department”.
Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Rosen were unaware that Mr. Perry introduced Mr. Clark and Mr. Trump. Exactly a week later, they would be forced to fight Mr. Clark for their job in an Oval Office showdown.
During the call, Mr. Trump also asked Justice Department officials to “guess what to do” with Hunter Biden, President Biden’s son. “People will criticize the DOJ if it is not investigated for real,” he told them, violating long-standing guidelines against White House interference in criminal investigations or other law enforcement actions.
Two days after the phone call with Mr. Trump, Mr. Donoghue took notes of a meeting between officials from the Department of Justice; Mr. Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, White House Attorney Pat Cipollone, and White House Deputy Attorney Patrick Philbin to discuss a conspiracy theory known as Italygate, who claims without evidence that people in Italy have used military technology to remotely tamper with voting machines in the United States.
Justice Department officials told the White House they had appointed someone to look into the case, according to the notes and a person briefed on the meeting. They did not mention that the ministry was studying the theory in order to demystify it, the person said.
Nicolas fandos contributed reports.
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