If we aren’t, it’s because Democrats, not just Republicans, want it that way. If they’re not going to seize the opportunity to prosecute the entire “stop the steal” campaign as a sustained exercise in incitement then they’re saying very clearly that a coup attempt that ended up failing wasn’t an offense serious enough to warrant a serious attempt to punish it.
And that lesson won’t be lost on the sociopathic coup-plotters of tomorrow. If there are no penalties, professional or criminal, for participating in an effort to overturn an election by hook or by crook then we’ll get more of those efforts. If basic decency and a democratic civic culture weren’t enough to deter people from trying to grab power this time, they won’t be enough next time. The next coup-plotters need to know that if they make this move, they’re accepting personal destruction as the price of failure.
The background here per the NYT is simple. After Bill Barr stepped down as AG, Jeffrey Rosen became the new acting AG. Trump hoped that Rosen would be more gung ho to push his “rigged election” claims than Barr was, but discovered to his dismay that Rosen wasn’t. He met with him, he called him, he pressed him to file briefs supporting voter-fraud lawsuits that’d been filed by private parties and to appoint a special counsel to investigate vote-rigging and Dominion’s machines. Rosen wouldn’t do it. Absent actual evidence of voter fraud, he refused to authorize a fishing expedition that was obviously designed to undermine the legitimacy of Biden’s victory. Luckily for Trump, the acting head of the DOJ’s civil division, Jeffrey Clark, was allegedly more credulous about the “stop the steal” propaganda. Which is how, if the Times’s account is accurate, we ended up with something like a mini-coup-attempt inside the Justice Department itself between the time Barr left and the Capitol riot on January 6.
As December wore on, Mr. Clark mentioned to Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue that he spent a lot of time reading on the internet — a comment that alarmed them because they inferred that he believed the unfounded conspiracy theory that Mr. Trump had won the election. Mr. Clark also told them that he wanted the department to hold a news conference announcing that it was investigating serious accusations of election fraud. Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue rejected the proposal…
Mr. Clark was also focused on Georgia. He drafted a letter that he wanted Mr. Rosen to send to Georgia state legislators that wrongly said that the Justice Department was investigating accusations of voter fraud in their state, and that they should move to void Mr. Biden’s win there…
On New Year’s Eve, the trio met to discuss Mr. Clark’s refusal to hew to the department’s conclusion that the election results were valid. Mr. Donoghue flatly told Mr. Clark that what he was doing was wrong. The next day, Mr. Clark told Mr. Rosen — who had mentored him while they worked together at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis — that he was going to discuss his strategy with the president early the next week, just before Congress was set to certify Mr. Biden’s electoral victory.
Unbeknown to the acting attorney general, Mr. Clark’s timeline moved up. He met with Mr. Trump over the weekend, then informed Mr. Rosen midday on Sunday that the president intended to replace him with Mr. Clark, who could then try to stop Congress from certifying the Electoral College results. He said that Mr. Rosen could stay on as his deputy attorney general, leaving Mr. Rosen speechless.
If you believe the Times’s sources, Clark wanted the acting Attorney General of the United States to ask the Georgia state legislature to overturn its election results at the last minute, mere days before Congress certified Biden’s win, based on nonexistent evidence of voter fraud there. What would have happened if Rosen had signed that letter, or if Trump had followed through on the plan to make Clark the acting AG so that he could send the letter himself? How many Republican legislatures in swing states, emboldened by Clark’s action, would have also then moved to void their results?
What would this country look like right now if they had?
The DOJ coup attempt mercifully skidded to a halt on the evening of Sunday, January 3, when all the major players huddled at the White House:
At the meeting were Trump, Clark and Rosen, along with Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general; Steven A. Engel, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, the people familiar with the matter said. The people said Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and Cipollone pushed against the idea of replacing Rosen, and warned of a mass resignation.
Cipollone, one person said, pushed hard against a letter Clark wanted to send to Georgia state legislators, which wrongly asserted the department was investigating accusations of fraud in their state and Biden’s win should be voided, insisting it was based on a shoddy claim.
“Pat pretty much saved Rosen’s job that day,” said one senior Trump White House official.
The Times’s sources corroborated the claim that mass resignations by top DOJ officials were in the works if Trump ended up replacing Rosen with Clark. Supposedly that’s what finally convinced the president to back down. What’s the point of replacing Rosen with Clark to try to legitimize your “stop the steal” message if that message will suddenly be drowned out by saturation media coverage of a new “Saturday night massacre” at the Justice Department? Having half the DOJ quit in protest would have made Clark’s appointment look wholly illegitimate, defeating the purpose of appointing him in the first place.
For the record, Clark told the Times that their story was inaccurate, that he had no plan to oust Rosen and didn’t get his information from the Internet. Verrrry strange, in that case, that an obscure figure like him is at the center of two strikingly similar accounts of what happened published by the Times and the Washington Post.
One obvious question raised by all this is how much Bill Barr had been pressured by Trump and/or Clark before he quit. It’s never been clear why he decided to leave less than a month before Inauguration Day instead of hanging in there until January 20 and then resigning like cabinet officials typically do. Maybe Barr knew what Trump and Clark were up to and didn’t want to spend the final four weeks of Trump’s term having to tell the two of them “no” every day and perpetually at risk of being ignominiously fired and replaced by Clark. It’d be weak of him to ditch out and let Rosen take the brunt of that instead, but maybe he was weak.
Another question: How many more hugely damning stories like this sourced by disgruntled Trump officials are in the pipeline, waiting to drop? No doubt lots of people have hair-raising stories to tell about how far the “stop the steal” effort went behind the scenes. Maybe that’s why McConnell was so curiously willing to postpone Trump’s trial for two weeks instead of getting it over with ASAP. Cocaine Mitch is reportedly open to seeing Trump convicted; he’s not going to find 17 Republican votes for that today, but the more news like this continues to drop over the next two weeks, the more pressure there’ll be on Senate GOPers to vote against the president. That’s another reason why Schumer should want to take his time with the trial and let House Dems cover the entire post-election program to try to overturn the election. If the trial is destined to end in acquittal, which it almost certainly is, Democrats can at least make Republicans pay a higher political price for voting no by presenting a thorough, compelling case.
And yet another question. Did Clark commit a crime here? *Would* he have committed a crime if he had ended up being installed as AG and then sent that letter requesting that Georgia’s results be overturned? Bear in mind that Trump himself is being looked at for solicitation of election fraud after he told Brad Raffensperger earlier this month to “find” the votes he needed to overcome Biden’s final margin in Georgia. What Clark supposedly wanted to do is even more corrupt than that. Assuming the Times’s account is true, even if he can’t be charged with anything he should be unemployable as a lawyer for trying to commandeer the Justice Department and leverage its authority to further a coup attempt. As it is, he’ll probably end up as some star legal commentator on Fox or Newsmax or whatever.