Three days before Congress was slated to certify the 2020 presidential election, a little-known Justice Department official named Jeffrey Clark rushed to meet President Donald Trump in the Oval Office to discuss a last-ditch attempt to reverse the results.
Clark, an environmental lawyer by trade, had outlined a plan in a letter he wanted to send to the leaders of key states Joe Biden won. It said that the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns” about the vote and that the states should consider sending “a separate slate of electors supporting Donald J. Trump” for Congress to approve.
In fact, Clark’s bosses had warned there was not evidence to overturn the election and had rejected his letter days earlier. Now they learned Clark was about to meet with Trump. Acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen tracked down his deputy, Richard Donoghue, who had been walking on the Mall in muddy jeans and an Army T-shirt. There was no time to change. They raced to the Oval Office.
As Rosen and Donoghue listened, Clark told Trump that he would send the letter if the president named him attorney general.
Donoghue told Trump that Clark was “not competent” to serve as Attorney General, and if Trump appointed him there would be mass resignations at the DOJ. Kranish writes that January 6 Committee witness have revealed new information about what happened in that January 3 Oval Office meeting.
A reconstruction of the events by The Washington Post, based on the court filings, depositions, Senate and House reports, previously undisclosed emails, and interviews with knowledgeable government officials, shows how close the country came to crisis three days before the insurrection.
The evidence, which fills in crucial details about Clark’s efforts, includes an email showing he was sent a draft of a letter outlining a plan to try to overturn the election by a just-arrived Justice Department official who had once written a book claiming President Barack Obama planned to “subvert the Constitution.”
But larger mysteries could still be solved at a Jan. 6 committee hearing on Wednesday morning slated to examine Clark’s actions, including the crucial question of whether Clark and his allies were acting on their own initiative — or whether they were one piece of a larger, well-planned effort to keep Trump in power. That question gets to the heart of the committee’s professed mission: proving there was a “coordinated, multi-step effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election.”
It’s a long read, so you’ll have to go to the WaPo to read all the details.
Now for some reactions to yesterday’s Committee presentation.
Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg: Trump Knew Exactly What He Was Doing on Jan. 6.
“Jerry, just remember: It’s not a lie if you believe it.” — George Costanza, “Seinfeld”
Did Donald Trump believe he was telling the truth when he claimed that the 2020 election, which he lost, was rigged against him? I think not, but I’m just one person.
Fortunately, lots of other White House advisers, such as former Attorney General William Barr, told Trump in the days and weeks after the election that there was no fraud. Barr called the claims “bullshit,” “rubbish” and “idiotic.” Trump’s advisers were surprised, sometime stunned, that he plowed ahead anyway. Those were just some of the revelations from the second day of testimony of the select congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.
One reason this matters is that the hearing’s most important audience isn’t voters or historians. It’s an audience of one: Attorney General Merrick Garland. If Garland’s Justice Department decides to charge Trump with electoral fraud, it will need to demonstrate to a jury that Trump intended to commit a crime when he staged an attempted coup — and that he knew what he was doing was wrong. The Jan. 6 committee is laying lots of persuasive evidence on Garland’s desk.
In addition to Barr, other White House and campaign advisers, including Jared Kushner, Bill Stepien, Eric Herschmann, Alex Cannon and Jeffrey Rosen, told Trump that there was no election fraud. Some advisers did insist otherwise, including Rudy Giuliani. But based on testimony at the hearing, the Giuliani crowd was telling Trump what he already wanted to hear. Barr testified that Trump had no interest in the “actual facts.” Stepien testified that Trump’s “mind was made up” that mail-in voting was a scam months before the election took place.
Barr went as far as to say that if Trump really did believe there was fraud, he had “become detached from reality.” But Trump’s never been detached from reality — he has simply created the narratives he wants to get what he wants. He’s been doing that for decades. You can call this modus operandi lying, or exaggerating, or prevaricating, or dissembling, or falsely speaking. Whatever the term, he knows exactly what he’s doing when he does it.
Read more at the link. Fortunately AG Garland says he’s following the Committee’s presentations.
Hugo Lowell at The Guardian: Garland says he is watching January 6 hearings amid pressure to investigate Trump.
“I am watching and I will be watching all the hearings, although I may not be able to watch all of it live,” Garland said shortly after the select committee concluded its second hearing. “I can assure you the January 6 prosecutors are watching all of the hearings, as well.”
The attorney general declined to address potential investigations into Trump or other individuals mentioned by the select committee at the hearings, saying that could undermine prosecutors’ work and would be unfair to people under scrutiny who might never be charged.
But Garland reiterated earlier promises that the justice department is exploring potential criminal conduct regardless of those people’s level, their positions in the government and proximity to Trump, or whether they were at the Capitol on 6 January 2021.
The justice department appears in recent weeks to have expanded its criminal investigation to examine top figures connected to Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including government officials and Republican lawyers and operatives.
One grand jury in Washington is investigating the rallies that preceded the Capitol attack and whether any executive or legislative branch officials were involved in trying to obstruct Joe Biden’s election certification, according to a subpoena seen by the Guardian.
The justice department also appears to be investigating political operatives close to Trump, according to another grand jury subpoena seen by the Guardian, as well as some Trump lawyers involved in a scheme to send fake Trump electors to Congress.
Read the rest at The Guardian.
At The Daily Beast, Julia Davis reports: Team Putin in a Panic Over Jan. 6 Hearings ‘Lynching Trump.’
The House select committee’s primetime Jan. 6. hearings are causing conniptions in Moscow.
The attempted insurrection was embraced by the Kremlin as cause célèbre, with Russian President Vladimir Putin himself calling for an investigation into the death of Ashli Babbitt, who was part of the crowd attacking the U.S. Capitol. Russia’s state-controlled media obsessively covered the notorious attack, praising the would-be insurrectionists as law-abiding protesters and criticizing the United States for prosecuting them. But now, propagandists seem to be concerned that the hearings may negatively impact the chances of re-election for their so-called “partner,” former U.S. President Donald J. Trump.
Kremlin-controlled state media has been relishing the faltering popularity ratings of President Biden, describing Trump as a shoo-in for re-election and openly hoping that a Republican takeover in the midterms would spell a change in America’s foreign policy towards Ukraine. The Jan. 6 committee hearings seem to be a fly in the ointment and now Putin’s propagandists are no longer certain of what the future elections might hold.
Assuming that a criminal prosecution against Trump is all but inevitable, state TV host Vladimir Solovyov seemed perturbed during his show The Evening With Vladimir Solovyov last Friday: “Look at what’s going on in America. A criminal prosecution against Trump and his followers is an obvious step towards a dictatorship.” Solovyov failed to mention the kind of penalties one might face in Russia for attempting a violent insurrection, where people get arrested for something so innocuous as holding up a sign that says “Peace,” or even a blank sheet of paper….
Dmitry Abzalov, Director of the Center for Strategic Communications, was equally agitated: “The most crucial point is as follows: we need to understand what’s going to happen in the electoral sense. The internal political component is extremely significant. The most important events on our political calendar are local elections in Great Britain as well as a very difficult situation in July and August, since the midterms in the U.S. actually start during summer months. Every Thursday they’ll be lynching Trump in prime time.”
Click the link to read the rest.
William Saletan at The Bulwark: If Trump Wasn’t Lying, That’s Worse. A delusional president is far more dangerous than a mendacious one.
On Monday, the House January 6th Committee presented evidence that Donald Trump, after losing the 2020 election, promoted allegations of voter fraud that his own advisers had told him were false. According to the committee, this evidence proves he was lying.
But the evidence actually points to a different conclusion: Trump wasn’t lying in the way that other presidents have done. He was simply impervious. He refused to accept unwelcome facts. And that degree of imperviousness, in a president, is much more dangerous than dishonesty.
Testimony at Monday’s hearing showed that many people around Trump—Mark Meadows, Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, and others—knew his claims were false. But the testimony about Trump himself was different. Nobody recalled the then-president privately admitting, in the style of Richard Nixon, that he was hiding the truth. Instead, everyone who had interacted with Trump described him as batting away information he didn’t want to hear.
Saletan then provides a four-part summary of the evidence, which you can read at the link above.
If Trump truly believed, despite all evidence, that the election was stolen, that might buy him some relief from criminal charges that require corrupt intent. But in terms of his fitness for office, the theory that he was deluded—not lying—is more alarming, not less.
In his testimony, Barr described a meeting with Trump on Dec. 14, 2020. Trump was still ranting about Dominion and other fantastic tales. “I was somewhat demoralized,” Barr told the committee, “because I thought, boy, if he really believes this stuff . . . he’s become detached from reality.” Barr speculated that Trump had “lost contact.” He recalled that each time he told Trump “how crazy some of these allegations were,” Trump brushed aside the information: “There was never an indication of interest in what the actual facts were.”
“I felt that before the election it was possible to talk sense to the President,” Barr testified. This sometimes required “a big wrestling match” with Trump, he explained, but “it was possible to keep things on track.” But “after the election, he didn’t seem to be listening.”
Detached from reality. Lost contact. No interest in facts.
We can’t have a president who thinks—or doesn’t think—this way. We can’t put the world’s most powerful armed forces and nuclear arsenal back in the hands of a man who believes, no matter what, that he has the mandate of the people—and is willing to use violence to stay in power. In the Oval Office, a madman is far more dangerous than a liar.
I’m not sure what to believe. I do think that Trump has shown himself to be delusional in many situations. On the other hand, if Trump truly believed his lies, it would be much more difficult to prosecute him.
Trump himself issued a response to the evidence provided by the committee. The Hill: Trump releases 12-page response to Jan. 6 hearing.
The 12-page document underscores how Trump has yet to move on from his false claims of fraud in the 2020 election and how the committee’s work may be central to a potential 2024 campaign….
Trump repeats a handful of disproven claims to assert the 2020 election was stolen from him and rigged in favor of Democrats, including some that were brought up during testimony by former Trump campaign and administration officials.
One section of Trump’s statement focuses on ballot trafficking claims, for which he cites the Dinesh D’Souza documentary “2000 Mules.” In testimony shown earlier Monday, former Attorney General William Barr laughed at the mention of the film, saying he was “unimpressed with it” and dismissed the idea that it proved widespread fraud.
Another section asserts that President Biden could not have won the states of Pennsylvania, Arizona or Georgia because he got more Black votes and Hispanic votes than former President Obama. Each of those states has performed audits and recounts and found no evidence of widespread fraud.
Trump in one section claimed states such as Pennsylvania and Michigan took additional time after Election Day to count ballots because it was part of an elaborate scheme to ship in fraudulent votes so Biden could erase Trump’s narrow leads in those states.
But former Fox News editor Chris Stirewalt testified in person on Monday to dismiss that very theory, known as the “red mirage.” Stirewalt explained that Republicans typically do better on Election Day, while Democrats perform better in early voting. Some states, such as Pennsylvania, do not count early votes or mail-in ballots until Election Day, meaning it takes additional time to finalize the count.