'Pure insanity': Emails show Trump's acting attorney general and his aides battling Trump election conspiracies

Emails released Tuesday by Democrats on the House Oversight Committee document how top Justice Department appointees shifted from compliance to bewildered resistance amid an onslaught of directives and requests from former President Donald Trump's White House to try and overturn Trump's Nov. 3 election loss. Trump and his top aides began asking DOJ official Jeffrey Rosen to pursue baseless election fraud allegations at least 10 days before Trump elevated him to acting attorney general, and they didn't let up until early January.

On Dec. 14, 2020, the day the Electoral College formalized President Biden's victory, Trump's assistant sent Rosen documents and "talking points" on what turned out to be nonexistent election malfeasance in Michigan's Antrim County. Minutes later, Richard Donoghue, then a senior Justice Department official, sent the same packet of documents to federal prosecutors in Michigan, and about 40 minutes after that, Trump announced that Attorney General William Barr would step down and Rosen would take his place, with Donoghue becoming acting deputy attorney general..

The pressure from the White House mounted, and got stranger, after Christmas. On Dec. 29, Trump's assistant sent Rosen, Donoghue, and the acting solicitor general a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to nullify the votes in six states Trump lost, and a private lawyer followed up saying Trump wanted Rosen to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case. Rosen declined.

Subscribe to The Week

Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.


Sign up for The Week's Free Newsletters

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

From our morning news briefing to a weekly Good News Newsletter, get the best of The Week delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign up

On Jan. 1, White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sent Rosen a link to a YouTube video about a bizarre conspiracy theory involving Italy using satellites to change U.S. votes. Rosen forwarded the email to Donoghue, who replied: "Pure insanity."

See more

In all, Meadows sent Rosen at least five directives to investigate alleged election irregularities, including an email about alleged fraud in Georgia's Fulton County — which Rosen also sent on to Donoghue, with the note: "Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below." Taken together, the emails show Justice Department officials "strategizing how to resist or at least work around the 'antics' coming from the Oval Office, as one official put it in an email," The Washington Post reports. You can read the emails here.

Continue reading for free

We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.

Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.

Peter Weber

Peter Weber is a senior editor at TheWeek.com, and has handled the editorial night shift since the website launched in 2008. A graduate of Northwestern University, Peter has worked at Facts on File and The New York Times Magazine. He speaks Spanish and Italian and plays bass and rhythm cello in an Austin rock band. Follow him on Twitter.