WASHINGTON — Top Justice Department officials and White House lawyers made clear to then-President Donald Trump in early January that they would all resign from the administration if Trump replaced his acting attorney general with an ally who had been pushing his effort to overturn the 2020 election.
That’s according to a nearly 400-page report released Thursday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which provides a detailed timeline of Trump’s campaign to pressure DOJ officials to help him try to reverse Joe Biden’s victory. The report’s findings are based on testimony from three former DOJ officials as well as documents and emails.
From the day former Attorney General William Barr announced his resignation in mid-December of last year to early January, Trump held at least nine calls or in-person meetings with senior DOJ officials in which he directly and repeatedly asked them "to initiate investigations, file lawsuits on his behalf, and publicly declare the 2020 election 'corrupt,'" according to the report, prepared by the panel's Democratic staff.
The report outlines that Trump wanted to replace acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, then the acting head of the department's civil division, who devised a strategy with the president for the DOJ to intervene in Georgia’s appointment of presidential electors and to use this model in other states. Rosen and then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, however, rejected Clark’s proposal.
These efforts led to a Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting that Trump held for two to three hours with senior DOJ officials and White House officials. “According to Rosen, Trump opened the meeting by saying, ‘One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election,’” the Senate report said.
Donoghue said the rest of the meeting involved “a wide-ranging conversation” focused on whether Trump should replace the DOJ’s leadership and install Clark in Rosen’s place, the report said. But the report said that during the meeting, Donoghue and Steven Engel, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, conveyed to Trump that if he followed through on the threat, all of the assistant attorneys general would resign.
“Donoghue added that the mass resignations likely would not end there, and that U.S. attorneys and other DOJ officials might also resign en masse,” the report said. “Donoghue told us that he raised the prospect of mass resignations 'earlier rather than later' in the meeting because he thought it was important context for the President’s decision.”
The committee said Donoghue and Rosen recounted that White House counsel Pat Cipollone called Trump’s plan a “murder-suicide pact.” Cipollone and another White House lawyer, Patrick Philbin, indicated “that they would also resign.” The report said Trump didn’t stand down until the final 15 minutes of the meeting.
Even after the meeting, Trump still kept pushing his conspiracy theories that the election was stolen. That night, Donoghue said Trump contacted him “to claim a DHS Special Agent was in custody of a truck full of shredded ballots outside of Atlanta,” the report said. Ultimately, the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI and a U.S. attorney’s office determined this claim to be false.
Three days later, on Jan. 6, Trump held his “stop the steal” rally near the White House, where he urged his supporters to interrupt the counting of the electoral votes at the Capitol. The attack at the Capitol then unfolded for several hours.
Some Trump allies with ties to the "stop the steal" movement and the efforts to interrupt the counting of the electoral votes on Jan. 6 were also involved in pressuring DOJ to undermine the election results, the report said. Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., for example, introduced Trump to Clark, and Perry "directly communicated with Donoghue about his false Pennsylvania election fraud claims," it said. Perry led the GOP's objection to Pennsylvania's electoral votes for Biden on the House floor on Jan. 6.
Clark and Rosen did not immediately respond to NBC News' request for comment.
The House Oversight and Reform Committee released a report in June about the president’s attempts to nullify Biden's win, but the new Senate report offers the most comprehensive assessment so far of the president’s pressure campaign to overturn the election.