William Barr’s resignation as attorney general wasn’t even public before Donald Trump started pressuring Barr’s acting replacement to help overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss. Trump had his assistant email Jeffrey Rosen, the incoming acting attorney general, with documents claiming to show election fraud in Michigan, despite the fact that the same claims had already been tossed by a federal judge.
That was just one part of a pressure campaign coming from Trump, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and some of the cadre of lawyers who were losing case after case in the courts—a campaign foreshadowed in recent reports of Meadows urging the Justice Department to look into claims of Italian satellites changing votes, and now more fully revealed in emails the Justice Department turned over to the House Oversight Committee.
At least five times Meadows tried to get the Justice Department to investigate a conspiracy theory, according to a House Oversight Committee summary of the emails. On Dec. 30 and Jan. 1, Meadows barraged Rosen with emails making claims about those Italian satellites, about “video issues in Fulton County” (Georgia), “allegations of signature match anomalies” in the same county, and conspiracy theories about Dominion voting machines in New Mexico.
Trump, through his assistant, also participated directly in the pressure campaign. After the Dec. 14 email about Michigan that reached Rosen just as his elevation to acting attorney general was about to be announced, Trump had his assistant send, on Dec. 29, a draft brief asking the Supreme Court to set aside the election results in six states and mandate a do-over. “The President asked me to send the attached draft document for your review,” the assistant’s email said, including a phone number for Rosen or other top Justice officials to reach Trump to discuss the matter.
The same day, a private attorney named Kurt Olsen, who had been involved with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s efforts to get the Supreme Court to hear a similar suit, repeatedly contacted top Justice Department officials, trying to get them to consider the draft brief Trump had already sent over. “As I said on our call, the President of the United States has seen this complaint, and he directed me last night to brief AG Rosen in person today and discuss bringing this action. I have been instructed to report back to the President this afternoon after this meeting,” he emailed Rosen’s chief of staff. Olsen even drove into Washington, D.C., to try to get an in-person meeting.
This was all happening as Trump was plotting with another top Justice Department lawyer to replace Rosen and get Georgia’s election results overturned, and pressuring Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes,” the number needed to put Trump on top in the state. As part of the same constellation of events, Byung Pak was forced to resign from his position as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
And, of course, it was just days before thousands of Trump supporters, called to Washington, D.C., by Trump, attacked the U.S. Capitol in an effort to stop Congress from certifying the election results. Hours later, 147 congressional Republicans voted against certifying those results.
This was a serious effort to overturn an election. As laughable as some of the details may seem—Italian satellites, really?—this was the sitting president of the United States repeatedly trying to get the acting attorney general and other top Justice Department officials to use the power of the federal government to swoop in and nullify or reverse state election results. And while it didn’t work this time, it’s not over. Adherence to Trump’s Big Lie has become essential to being considered a Republican in good standing, with Rep. Liz Cheney ousted from House Republican leadership over her refusal to do so. The Arizona fraudit drags on. Senate Republicans blocked an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Trump’s cult of personality may have kicked this whole thing off, but, having seen how close it came to succeeding, Republicans are not giving up on this as a way of gaining power—whether power to undermine the Biden presidency now or to overturn a future election loss.