There were at least three separate coup plots to the “stop the steal” effort, all of which overlapped but which remain distinct in their particulars. One was the effort to convince officials in swing states won by Biden to somehow undo the results, even appointing alternate pro-Trump slates of electors if need be. Another was pressuring Mike Pence to refuse to accept the electors from Biden swing states on January 6, which would have forced the House to decide the election.
But the most sinister one is the one that’s least known to Americans, the eleventh-hour attempt to install a no-name “rigged election” crank as acting Attorney General at the DOJ so that he could use the Justice Department’s resources — and credibility — to propagate the belief that the election had been stolen. Never mind that every major figure at the department, from former AG Bill Barr to acting AG Jeffrey Rosen to top deputies like Richard Donoghue, insisted that the subject had been investigated and no fraud was found.
That no-name crank was Jeffrey Clark, a lawyer in the DOJ’s civil division. If a single meeting held in the Oval Office on January 3, 2021 had gone differently, he’d be an infamous figure in American history today, assuming America still existed.
He should be an infamous figure in American history anyway. The January 6 committee is doing what it can to make sure that he is.
The January 3 meeting has been public knowledge since late January 2021 but most people have never heard of it, either because they don’t follow the news closely or because the news sites they patronize don’t show them information that’s damaging to Trump. The nutshell version is that Clark, then the acting head of the DOJ’s civil division, became convinced from his reading online that the election had been stolen and finagled his way into meeting with Trump about it. It’s strange for a deputy in the department to meet personally with the president without his superiors present but Clark had a special reason for doing so. He wanted Trump to execute a sort of coup within a coup at the DOJ by making him the acting Attorney General and demoting Rosen. Then he would apply the full force of the DOJ, or whatever was left of it after mass resignations, towards stopping the steal.
Which sounded good to Trump. One revelation from today’s hearing is that he was sufficiently sold on installing Clark as head of the DOJ that Clark was briefly listed as the acting AG in White House phone logs.
Stunning moment. Before DOJ leadership arrived at the White House on Jan. 3 to meet about election fraud, White House call logs already referred to Jeffrey Clark as the “Acting Attorney General.” pic.twitter.com/gc3jpHsEAH
— Norah O’Donnell 🇺🇸 (@NorahODonnell) June 23, 2022
Once Rosen, Donoghue, and White House lawyers got wind of what Clark was up to, they rushed to see Trump to try to talk him out of it. Picture the president behind the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office while a gaggle of lawyers around him debate whether he should cross the Rubicon and entrust the Justice Department to a nut who was willing to lend federal power to his conspiracy theories. Clark was there, egging Trump on to pull the trigger. Everyone else present, including White House lawyers Pat Cipollone and Eric Herschmann, warned him not to, promising that DOJ staff would quit en masse and criminal charges would likely result. Herschmann recalled one exchange with Clark in footage played at today’s hearing:
ex-Deputy White House Counsel Eric Herschmann’s thoughts on Jeff Clark:
“good fucking a-hole, congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you would take as attorney general would be committing a felony”
“I thought his proposal was asinine…” pic.twitter.com/edXRAht1lL
— Andrew Feinberg (@AndrewFeinberg) June 23, 2022
Donoghue try to hide his contempt for Clark either:
Rich Donoghue: “You’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office & we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.”
Absolutely sick burn pic.twitter.com/gTFPf4d6wO
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) June 23, 2022
How far gone was Trump at this point? This far:
Testimony from Sidney Powell that Trump asked her to be Special Counsel pic.twitter.com/sccUC1maxM
— Acyn (@Acyn) June 23, 2022
Imagine Jeffrey Clark and Sidney Powell trying to spearhead some sort of national investigation of election fraud with whichever handful of lawyers was left at the DOJ who hadn’t yet resigned in protest.
We found out today that Trump himself had lobbied Rosen in the days before the Clark meeting to seize voting machines, a move which, if executed, would have taken the crisis to a new level. No one would have trusted Trump not to send cronies to try to tamper with the machines once they were in the feds’ possession.
Rosen testifies that Trump asked him about seize voting machines from state governments. Trump got mad when DOJ officials told him it was a bad and unlawful idea. pic.twitter.com/QbqaC8LVQZ
— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) June 23, 2022
Where did he get the idea that voting machines had been corrupted and needed to be confiscated by the federal government for examination? Well, he’s an aging Boomer who’s drunk on conspiracies so you can guess where he got it. He got it from the same place Clark did: By reading online garbage.
“You guys may not be following the internet the way I do” pic.twitter.com/HJpCQRL2RN
— Justin Baragona (@justinbaragona) June 23, 2022
If we had to choose one detail from the hearing that was especially noteworthy, though, it’s probably this one from Donoghue. He was recounting a meeting with Trump in which DOJ officials once again told him there was no evidence of widespread fraud. So what did he want from them, exactly? This was his answer, verbatim, according to Donoghue:
“Just say the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” – exact quote from Donald Trump pic.twitter.com/NotVSwMZLX
— The Republican Accountability Project (@AccountableGOP) June 23, 2022
The odds of Trump being charged with a crime are 100 to one, I’d guess, partly because it’d be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that he knew he had lost and contrived to overturn the election anyway. But what he told Donoghue points in that direction. He didn’t care what the DOJ had found when it investigated his voter-fraud claims; he only wanted the department to give him a pretext with which to galvanize Republicans in Congress and at the state level to overturn the results of states Biden had won. He wanted a fig leaf, not evidence. The say-so of the Justice Department was enough.
Which sounds like someone who didn’t care whether he’d been cheated or not but simply wanted to cling to power by any means necessary.
He’ll almost certainly never serve a day in prison. Jeffrey Clark may be a different story. If there’s any henchman in this sleazy mafia drama who deserves legal consequences more than John Eastman does, it’s him.
I’ll leave you with this. Here’s Bill Barr — who bugged out in December 2020 and left Rosen to clean up the mess — speculating as to how far Trump might have gone if the DOJ hadn’t looked into his voter-fraud claims before the transition.
Former AG Barr on why the DOJ looked into the fraud claims: “I sort of shudder to think what the situation would have been if the position of the department was ‘we’re not evening looking at this until after Biden’s in office.’ I’m not sure we would have had a transition at all.” pic.twitter.com/HRAGxfCm5f
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 23, 2022