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'Pure insanity': Emails detail Trump's pressure on Justice Department to overturn election

Trump's White House badgered federal officials behind the scenes while he pushed unsubstantiated claims of election fraud on Twitter.
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WASHINGTON — Documents released Tuesday by the House Oversight Committee detail then-President Donald Trump’s repeated efforts to pressure the Department of Justice to pursue his unsubstantiated claims of election fraud in the 2020 presidential election and help overturn Joe Biden’s victory.

The emails illustrate the behind-the-scenes efforts Trump's White House took to pressure federal officials while he simultaneously pushed the same false claims on Twitter. The messages were sent from mid-December to early January and were made public by House Oversight and Government Reform Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.

Among the efforts was pressure on the Department of Justice to intervene in lawsuits being pursued by Trump's campaign and supporters to get the Supreme Court to overturn the results.

At the end of December, Trump’s White House assistant emailed then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and other top Justice Department officials with a draft legal brief that the president wanted them to file with the Supreme Court. Kurt Olsen, a private attorney for Trump, also contacted department officials requesting the federal agency file the brief.

The 54-page brief called on the Supreme Court to declare that Pennsylvania, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona and Nevada had administered the 2020 presidential election in violation of the Electors Clause and the 14th Amendment, claiming that the states changed election rules without legislative action. All six were swing states that Trump lost.

“Those unconstitutional changes allowed election irregularities in various forms,” said the complaint, which called on the high court to authorize a special election in those states to appoint new presidential electors.

Trump's vocal public efforts to overturn the election were highly unusual, but had the DOJ intervened on his behalf it would have been viewed as an extraordinary use of the powers of the presidency to overturn the will of voters.

The messages are also riddled with conspiracy theories, and the Oversight Committee's staff members cited at least five instances when then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows inquired about rumors that were circulating on the internet at the time but for which there was no supporting evidence.

For example, Meadows emailed Rosen a translated document from a person in Italy who claimed without evidence that he had “direct knowledge” of a plot that involved Italians changing the election results and then loading them into “military satellites.”

The pressure campaign reached its crescendo on Jan. 1, just five days before the Capitol riot and Congress' affirmation of the certified electors. On that day, Meadows emailed Justice Department leaders about the Italy conspiracy and complaints in Georgia and New Mexico, a state Trump lost by more than 10 points.

"Pure insanity," Richard Donoghue, who was the acting deputy attorney general, wrote to Rosen in response to Meadows' latest email promoting the theory.

Meadows' email had linked to a Youtube video featuring Brad Johnson — a retired CIA official whose LinkedIn says he now offers commentary on the far-right, pro-Trump cable channel One America News Network — also making the baseless claims of Italian malfeasance.

In response to Donoghue, Rosen wrote: "Yes."

"After this message, I was asked to have FBI meet with Brad Johnson, and I responded that Johnson could call or walk into FBI's Washington Field Office with any evidence he purports to have," Rosen continued. "On a follow up call, I learned that Johnson is working with Rudy Giuliani, who regarded my comments as 'an insult.' Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused and said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his 'witnesses,' and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this."

It was not clear whether the call Rosen detailed was with Meadows.

In response to another message from Meadows on New Year's Day pushing to investigate ballots in Fulton County, Georgia, Rosen wrote to Donoghue: "Can you believe this? I am not going to respond to the message below."

"At least it's better than the last one," Donoghue said, referencing the Italy conspiracy Meadows shared, "but that doesn't say much."

The documents begin with correspondence on Dec. 14, the day states certified Electoral College votes in the 2020 election and sealed Trump's defeat.

Trump’s assistant sent an email to Rosen with the subject line “From POTUS” and attached materials that listed “talking points” about a “cover-up of voting crimes” in Michigan, a state that Trump lost by more than 154,000 votes.

About an hour after the email was sent, Trump announced that Attorney General William Barr would be stepping down from his position and Rosen would be taking over as acting attorney general.

Just after midnight the following day, Trump tweeted: “This is BIG NEWS. Dominion Voting Machines are a disaster all over the Country. Changed the Results of a landslide election … ” It's a claim that Trump made repeatedly during his efforts to overturn the election, but which there has never been evidence provided to substantiate.

Emails from the end of December and early January showed that White House officials, including Meadows, directed then-Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark to advance the election fraud claims by reaching out to a U.S. attorney in Georgia, Byung J. Pak. NBC News previously reported that Trump was considering firing Rosen at the time and replacing him with Clark.

In the end, Trump was unsuccessful in getting his Justice Department to take legal action to overturn the presidential results. A few days after Biden’s inauguration, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz announced that he would investigate whether any current or former officials engaged in an “improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.”

Maloney said Tuesday that she has asked that Meadows and the former Justice Department officials involved in the pressure campaign appear for transcribed interviews before the committee.

"More reasons why we need a Jan. 6 Commission and why Mark Meadows emails, texts and records should be subpoenaed ASAP," tweeted former Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va.

Democrats echoed Comstock, saying the latest revelations bolstered the case to further investigate the Trump administration's efforts to overturn the election in the run-up to and on Jan. 6.

"We’re still learning just how far the Trump administration was willing to go to overturn the results of our fair and free election," tweeted Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif. "We must ensure the American people have a full accounting of events on, and leading up to, January 6th."

"We must fully investigate former President Trump's efforts to pressure the Department of Justice to challenge the results of our 2020 election," tweeted Rep. Robin Kelly, D-Ill. "These documents show yet another blow to our democracy dealt by the Trump administration."