On Dec. 30, Donald Trump called on Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp to resign after the fellow Republican refused to intervene to overturn the outcome of elections in that state. On Jan. 2, Donald Trump called Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and tried to pressure him into multiple violations of election law, followed by a series of threats about what would happen if Raffensperger didn’t “find” enough votes to hand the state to Trump. In that called to the Republican secretary, Trump mentioned a “never-Trumper U.S. attorney” in Georgia, and hinted to Raffensperger that he would be charged criminally once this never-Trumper was sent packing.
The next day, U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak submitted his resignation. Pak, who was nominated to his position by Trump, handed over a resignation letter full of the standard theme of “gratitude.” Coming in the same week that a Trump-inspired insurgency assaulted the Capitol in an effort to overturn the election—and at the same time Trump was making a number of last-minute appointments and changes—Pak’s resignation didn’t draw the same amount of attention that it might have generated in a non-coup week.
But now The Washington Post reports the Justice Department inspector general is looking into why Pak resigned when he did. Because it seems extremely likely that Kemp and Raffensperger weren’t the only ones who got a call from Trump.
If Trump called on Pak to resign out of the blue, that’s odd, but it’s far from illegal. After all, as the prolonged example of Geoffrey Berman demonstrated last June, U.S. attorneys, like most appointed members of the executive branch, can be dismissed without need to give cause.
However, the fact that Trump referred to a “never-Trumper U.S. attorney” in his call to Raffensperger absolutely suggests that either he, or some other member of the White House staff, had already tried to pressure Pak into taking some unspecified action to interfere with Georgia’s election. Something that was illegal, or simply wrong enough, for Pak to refuse.
The Post’s sources indicate that Pak received a call from a senior official in the Department of Justice that “led him to believe he should resign.” But since Trump was already angry at the entire Justice Department for failing to support his laughable attempts to alter the outcome of the election in court, it’s unclear just what made Pak feel that he had to step out of the way—especially when his term was almost certain to be up in just two weeks.
In any case, with Pak’s departure, Trump immediately backfilled by expanding the territory of South District of Georgia prosecutor Bobby Christine. That was also a red flag as the job should have passed to Pak’s deputy. However, Christine doesn’t seem to have made any overt moves to support Trump’s efforts to overturn the choice of Georgia voters.
As with so many stories coming from Trump’s final months, it may take some time to understand exactly what Trump did in his efforts to sink democracy. But it’s okay to go ahead with the impeachment trial before all this information is understood.
Trump can always be indicted later.