Speed Reads

The steal, stopped

New records show how fiercely Trump DOJ loyalists fought to help — and resist — his effort to steal the 2020 election

With much of the news media focused on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) Tuesday night, ABC News published a Dec. 28, 2020, letter from Jeffrey Clark, then the acting head of the Justice Department's civil division, to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his acting deputy, Richard Donoghue. Clark's letter is "the single most damning piece of evidence yet" on former President Donald Trump's "comprehensive" and "dangerous" attempt to overturn his 2020 loss, Chris Hayes said on MSNBC Wednesday night. 

Clark wanted Rosen and Donoghue to sign his draft letter telling Georgia's leaders the Justice Department "is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election" and has "identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states." If Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) declined to call a special session to address "this important and urgent matter," Clark's draft letter claimed, the Justice Department believes "the Georgia General Assembly has implied authority under the Constitution of the United States to call itself into special session" and appoint its own presidential electors.

Clark's letter was, "in other words, a road map to overthrowing the will of voters," The Washington Post's Philip Bump wrote Wednesday. Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) told MSNBC on Wednesday night that Clark had drafted similar letters to six states Trump lost, encouraging Republicans to overturn President Biden's win. 

Rosen and Donoghue flatly refused. "There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this," Donoghue emailed Clark a few hours after receiving the draft. Rosen added later he "confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter."

"By itself, this back-and-forth is probably without precedent," Bump writes. "But slotted into the other events we know were occurring at the same time, we see just how desperately Trump was scrambling to gain a toehold in his efforts to upend a Biden presidency" — and how close he came.

On Jan. 3, for example, Trump nearly replaced Rosen with Clark in a fraught Oval Office meeting. On Wednesday, Politico published an email senior DOJ official Patrick Hovakimian wrote in preparation for Rosen's expected ouster. Rosen had "repeatedly refused the president's direct instructions" to misuse the DOJ's "law enforcement powers," so he and Donoghue "resign from the department, effusively immediacy," Hovakimian's unsent email said.

University of Texas Law professor Steve Vladeck said "Clark's (insane) draft letter lays bare" that Trump's legal effort was always just a "thinly veiled cover for overturning the result of a democratic election."

MSNBC's Hayes was more dramatic, arguing Clark should face consequences for having "aimed a nuclear weapon at the United States of America's democracy."