At its hearing on Thursday, the committee for the first time drew a line between two of those other paths, a connection that had not been drawn before. The guideline was Trump attorney John Eastman.
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Thursday’s hearing focused on Trump’s efforts to leverage the Justice Department to bolster his baseless claims of voter fraud. In the weeks leading up to Jan. 6, 2021, the president put increasing pressure on the department to take action to that end. He resisted, for the obvious reason that no creeping fraud had occurred. Not that he didn’t consider it, as witnesses at Thursday’s hearing made clear: theories were raised, discussed and dismissed for lack of evidence, again and again.
After Attorney General William P. Barr made this clear publicly, Trump turned on him. Barr quickly left his post. Then, Trump’s pressure turned to Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his subordinates, including Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue. Testifying before the committee, Rosen and Donoghue described meetings and calls with Trump during which the president became increasingly agitated. They refuted his fraud claims, prompting Trump to make a remarkable request: “Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest up to me and Congressmen R.”, as Donoghue’s contemporary memos put it.
While this was happening, a Justice Department official named Jeffrey Clark caught Trump’s attention. Clark, who was introduced to Trump by the president’s ally, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), had begun pushing for the department to take action that would meet Trump’s request and publicly suggest that the election results were suspect. A plan forms: oust Rosen and replace him with Clark.
One of the first things Clark planned to do was send a letter he had drafted to Georgia officials.
“The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States,” he began, which wasn’t really true. Both Barr and Rosen had dismissed the idea that there was anything suspicious about the election. But even after Clark conducted his own investigations that turned up nothing, Donoghue said, Clark wanted to move the letter forward.
The culmination of this effort came on January 3, 2021, three days before the riot. In a remarkable meeting in the Oval Office, Trump came up with the idea of replacing Rosen with Clark. Rosen, Donoghue, and Trump’s own attorneys fervently opposed, promising that many senior department officials would resign. The plan ended.
All of this was happening as the president and his allies followed another path, one led by Trump lawyer Eastman. He was pushing a plan that would force state legislatures to approve alternative, unofficial voter lists that were cobbled together on Dec. 14. The plan was loosely formed and evolved as needed to avoid roadblocks, but the idea was that legislatures in states Biden won could pass resolutions setting aside voters who voted for Biden in favor of those who support Trump. . This plan only fell apart in the hours following the Capitol riot, when properly submitted voters from each state were approved.
It turns out, however, that there was apparently a connection between Clark’s letter and Eastman’s plot.
Shortly before the committee entered a brief hiatus Thursday, Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) revealed the connection.
“The committee also learned that Mr. Clark was working with another department attorney named Ken Klukowski, who wrote this letter to Georgia with Mr. Clark,” Cheney said. Klukowski, she said, began working at the department on Dec. 15, just over a month before the end of the Trump administration. There, Klukowski was assigned to work under Clark.
But “Mr. Klukowski also worked with John Eastman,” Cheney said, describing the attorney as “one of the key architects of President Trump’s plan to void the election.”
Cheney pointed to elements of the letter to Georgia that echoed Eastman’s plan for state lawmakers. Witness it:
“[T]The Department recommends that the Georgia General Assembly convene in special session so that its legislators are able to take additional testimony, receive new evidence, and deliberate on the matter in accordance with their duties under the US Constitution. Time is running out because the U.S. Constitution directs Congress to meet in joint session to count the certificates of the Electoral College…on January 6, 2021, with the Vice President presiding over the session as President of the Senate.
The letter went on to point out the alternative voter groups “in Georgia and several other states.” He made three recommendations: assess the alleged (and unfounded) irregularities, determine whether these could affect the election results, and then “take all necessary steps to ensure that any of the voter lists presented on December 14 will be accepted by Congress on January 1. 6.” Meaning: Potentially signing on the Trump list.
Cheney also presented an email sent after Klukowski joined the Justice Department by Trump ally Ken Cuccinelli, then acting assistant secretary of Homeland Security. He suggested that Eastman and Klukowski tell Vice President Mike Pence about the plan to change the election results. In the post, there’s even a reference to the sensitivity of including Klukowski, given his new position at the department.
“This email suggests that Mr. Klukowski was simultaneously working with Jeffrey Clark to craft the proposed letter to Georgian officials to rescind their certified election,” Cheney concluded, “and was working with Dr. Eastman to help lobby the vice-president. president to annul the election.”
In other words, Klukowski appears to be pulling two different parts of Trump’s efforts to retain power — reshuffling the Justice Department to focus on allegations of fraud and getting legislatures to approve alternative voter lists — into one. unified plot. It wasn’t just Clark who hoped to publicly raise the idea that something sketchy had happened in Georgia. Instead, Clark’s letter may have been an attempt to use the Justice Department to force the Georgia legislature to adopt Eastman’s plan.