Probe begins into thwarted Justice Department ‘coup’ to keep Trump in power

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The Justice Department’s inspector general announced Monday that he had started an investigation into whether current or former officials in the department had engaged in an “improper attempt” to overturn the 2020 presidential election to keep Donald Trump in power.

Michael Horowitz, the DOJ inspector general, released a statement announcing the decision.

“The DOJ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) is initiating an investigation into whether any former or current DOJ official engaged in an improper attempt to have DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 Presidential Election. The investigation will encompass all relevant allegations that may arise that are within the scope of the OIG’s jurisdiction. The OIG has jurisdiction to investigate allegations concerning the conduct of former and current DOJ employees.”

On Friday, the New York Times reported that a Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, then serving as an assistant attorney general, had discussed a plan with the president to oust acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and replace him with Clark. In the days leading up to the certification of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, the Times reported, Trump pressured Rosen, unsuccessfully, to find a pretext to disqualify Joe Biden’s victory in Georgia.

Rosen had been tapped in December to replace Attorney General William Barr, who had resigned after falling out of favor with Trump over his refusal to pursue Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud. In a Dec. 1 interview with the Associated Press, Barr disputed Trump’s claims that the election had been “stolen” from him. Barr also made clear that he would not use the power of the DOJ to try to help overturn the election results.

“To date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election,” Barr told the AP.

Barr had replaced Jeff Sessions, who resigned in 2018 under pressure from Trump over his refusal to quash the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller.

The rest of the Justice Department’s top officials, in a frantic weekend meeting, had agreed to resign en masse if Clark’s plan went forward, a threat that, according to the Times, convinced the White House to back down.

The investigation by Horowitz, who had been appointed to his job in 2012 by then-President Barack Obama, was demanded by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who called it “unconscionable a Trump Justice Department leader would conspire to subvert the people’s will.”

Jeffrey ClarkJeffrey Clark
Jeffrey Clark, then acting assistant attorney general, with deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen on Oct. 21. (Yuri Gripas/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

The new investigation by the DOJ’s inspector general could shed even more light on Trump’s many efforts to improperly overturn the election results. In a phone call that was recorded and made public, Trump personally pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” to erase his loss there. Trump made similar appeals to Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and Nevada and to the governors of Georgia and Arizona, all states where he lost to Biden.

Unable to persuade those officials to overturn their states’ votes and failing in court, Trump urged his supporters to attend a Washington, D.C., rally on Jan. 6, the same day that Congress was set to certify Biden’s Electoral College win. At the rally, which was attended by roughly 30,000 of his supporters, Trump urged the crowd to march to the U.S. Capitol to voice their displeasure with members of Congress and his own vice president, who were about to formally seal his loss. Whipped into a frenzy after months of false claims of election fraud, the pro-Trump mob ransacked the Capitol. The resulting violence left five people dead.

A week later, the House of Representatives impeached Trump on a charge of “incitement of insurrection.” His trial in the Senate is slated to begin on Feb. 9.

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