Top Justice Department officials and White House attorneys threatened to resign en masse if then-President Donald Trump followed through on plans to aggressively pursue unfounded claims of election fraud in his final days in office, according to an upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee report examining his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The New York Times first published details of the document late Wednesday, which includes the most detailed information yet about a meeting on Jan. 3 in which Trump fought with top officials in hopes of installing a loyalist as his acting attorney general. The plan was part of his final attempt to retain power after his loss to Joe Biden by more than 6 million votes and came amid his ongoing, and false, claims that widespread voter fraud had cost him the race.
According to the report cited by the Times, White House counsel Pat Cipollone likened Trump’s effort to a “murder-suicide pact” and threatened to resign alongside his deputy. Trump later relented and didn’t follow through with the plan.
The document draws on interviews and documents from several top DOJ officials, including the acting attorney general during Trump’s last month in office, Jeffrey Rosen, Rosen’s deputy, Richard Donoghue, and the former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, Byung Pak.
The document also includes more context about the role of Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Justice Department official who reportedly spoke with Trump several times about how to cast doubt on the election results. The Times previously reported that Trump pushed to install Clark as his acting attorney general. But the Senate report adds details to Clark’s efforts to bolster false claims about the election, including an instance where he pushed his bosses to send a letter to officials in Georgia falsely claiming there were “significant” concerns with the state’s election results.
The report also adds context to efforts by Rep. Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, who the document says pressured Donoghue to probe false claims of election fraud in the state. Biden won Pennsylvania by a narrow margin.
It also details Trump’s efforts to force Pak to resign and install another loyalist in Atlanta who had donated to his campaign. Georgia became a key focal point of the unfounded claims of voter fraud after Biden narrowly won the state as well.
The interim report is expected to be released publicly this week and comes amid several inquiries into Trump’s attempts to undercut the results of the election before the insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6. Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, told the Times the report “shows the American people just how close we came to a constitutional crisis.”
“Thanks to a number of upstanding Americans in the Department of Justice, Donald Trump was unable to bend the department to his will,” Durbin added in a statement to the newspaper. “But it was not due to a lack of effort.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee is still probing Trump’s final weeks in office and is waiting for documents from the National Archives and interviews with others familiar with the election efforts.