A new report gives the clearest account yet of the extent to which former President Donald Trump attempted to subvert the Justice Department to overthrow a legitimate election. The report makes clear that a handful of top administration officials heroically averted this attempted coup by threatening mass resignations if Trump carried out his scheme. As more and more of these details emerge, Republicans who continue to support Trump’s false and toxic claims of electoral victory should think hard about how history will view him — and them.
The interim report by the Senate Judiciary Committee shows how Trump’s Jan. 6 incitement of a mob of his supporters to attack the Capitol was only his most publicly visible attempt to overturn an election he clearly lost. In the days prior, Trump was maneuvering behind the scenes, trying to weaponize his Justice Department to validate his already-disproven claims of election fraud.
Among the abuses Trump wanted his underlings to commit was to send a letter to Georgia officials falsely claiming to have identified “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election” in hopes of getting the results overturned. The refusal of top officials to carry out that and other plots infuriated Trump. During a Jan. 2 meeting, according to testimony, Trump lashed out at his acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, telling him: “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything to overturn the election.”
Trump, frustrated that Rosen wouldn’t join his subterfuge, considered replacing him with someone who clearly would: Jeffrey Clark, a little-known Justice official and Trump loyalist who was lobbying Rosen and others to help get the election overturned.
Trump’s threat of replacing Rosen prompted Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, to warn of mass resignations, including both Cipollone and his top deputy, Patrick Philbin. Cipollone cautioned that Trump was tempting a “murder-suicide pact,” according to a participant in the meeting. Only then did Trump back down from his threat.
Congressional Republicans, fearful of Trump’s wrath and covetous of his base, are still trying to obfuscate his outrageous attempt to overthrow the election. But history has a way of clarifying these things.
The Watergate scandal of half a century ago added to our political lexicon the phrase “Saturday Night Massacre,” referring to two top Justice Department officials who resigned rather than carry out President Richard Nixon’s corrupt order to fire the special investigator who was closing in on him.
No rational American today would defend Nixon’s actions — and he was merely trying to get away with covering up an illegal wiretap, an objectively less damnable offense than trying to overturn a valid national election. With every new revelation, Trump’s attempted coup against democracy further dooms him to the trash bin of history. Those who still don’t understand that might well find themselves joining him there.
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