The flurry of new revelations revealing former President Donald Trump’s extraordinary efforts to seize power after his electoral defeat is a serious warning about the future and his potential attempt to retake the White House.
The audacity of the former president’s attempts to undermine the law using the Justice Department not only underscores how close the United States came to a full-blown constitutional crisis this year. It also underscores that any attempt by Trump to use a war chest already worth $100 million to try to retake the White House in 2024 would be a deadly threat to democracy and the rule of law from a leader who was not stopped even by his own first impeachment.
New revelations emerging from Senate testimony about alleged behind-the-scenes efforts by Trump’s loyal Justice Department official to cast doubt on the election results in states the former president lost also make the ongoing whitewashing of history of Trump’s crimes against the Constitution even more egregious and dangerous.
This staggering trend of attacks on U.S. democracy is exacerbated by GOP efforts in states to limit minority and Democrat voting and facilitate the reversal of future elections. Trump has failed to break the will of the voters in 2020. Some election experts fear that he – or another like-minded Republican strongman – may succeed in the future.
And ultimately, a flood of shocking new revelations means that Trump’s potential new campaign for the White House in 2024 will have the most serious implications for American democracy in decades. Given Trump’s impunity, the new administration could be staffed by loyalists who won’t fail to abuse their power – such as his attempts to overturn election results, which this time were blocked by officials in the Justice Department and in GOP-led states.
Trump’s ‘frightening’ maneuvers at the Justice Department
The latest evidence of Trump‘s anti-democratic mendacity was presented Friday and Saturday before the Senate Judiciary Committee by two former top Justice Department officials.
The Judiciary Committee chairman, Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois, said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the testimony lifted the veil on “frightening” maneuvers at the department after the November election.
Another Democrat, Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, told CNN’s Manu Raj that after listening to former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen’s testimony Saturday, he was struck by “how close the country came to total disaster” earlier this year.
Both Rosen and another official – Richard Donohue, then acting deputy attorney general – put another Trump-appointed official, Jeffrey Clarke, at the center of efforts to help the then-president undermine the election and potentially oust Clarke’s superiors, who resisted Trump’s efforts.
A source familiar with the case said the testimony includes new details about a Jan. 3 White House meeting in which Trump forced Rosen and Clark to undergo an effective wiretap for acting attorney general. In the end, the president decided not to replace Rosen with Clark. Rosen and Donohue testified that Trump did not order them to do anything illegal and ultimately agreed that the Justice Department could not claim voter fraud when there was no evidence that it had occurred.
ABC News first reported that Clark – Trump’s appointee as head of the environmental law department – drafted a letter that he asked Rosen to send to Georgia lawmakers to say they should get together to investigate election violations. The New York Times reported that Clark’s letter urged lawmakers to nullify Biden’s victory, citing false claims that the department was looking into allegations of fraud in the Peach State.
Durbin told CNN’s Dana Bash that he could not yet comment on the details of the testimony, but that a report would be forthcoming. He also said he would like Clark to testify about his role. Clark’s attorney declined to comment to CNN.
The Illinois senator said he was surprised at “how directly, personally involved the president was, the pressure he put on Jeffrey Rosen.” He added: “It was real, very real. And it was very specific. This president is not subtle when he wants something, the former president. He’s not subtle when he wants something.”
Asked by Bash whether Trump tried to get Rosen to overturn the election results, Durbin said, “It wasn’t as direct, but he asked him to do certain things related to the state election results, which he refused to do.”
“The White House, the White House leadership asked him to meet with certain people who had these wild, bizarre theories about why this election wasn’t valid. And he refused to do that,” the chairman said.
Durbin praised Rosen for standing firm against the former president’s anti-democratic agenda and outlined a scenario involving the resignation of former Attorney General William Barr that Trump was considering, reminiscent of the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre” during the Watergate scandal.
“The president was looking for a green light from the attorney general. Bill Barr reached a point where he could no longer do that. And in came Rosen, who wasn’t ready for it. And the president said: “We’ll find someone else,” Durbin said, clearly referring to Clark.
A chronology of gross abuses of power
The revelations came just days after it was revealed that Donohue’s records of the December 2020 call show that the former president pressured Rosen to say the election was rigged in an effort to help Republican members of Congress overturn Biden’s victory.
“Just say the election was rigged + leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump said during the call, according to Donohue’s records.
New details about the drama at the Justice Department add to the chronicle of Trump’s final days in office after stunning revelations in a number of new books about Trump’s behavior during this tumultuous period. In the most unusual new twist, Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker reported that General Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, feared Trump might try to use the military to stage a coup.
The confluence of new details proves that Trump’s behavior after losing the election was not only more extreme than it seemed from the outside. The chronology that has emerged also suggests that Trump attempted to commit one of the most extensive crimes against the Constitution in U.S. history. He attempted to use presidential power to overturn election results in Georgia and elsewhere. He put enormous pressure on career officials to go along with his corruption. And he summoned a mob in Washington that, incited by his lies, revolted against Congress, which at the time was certifying Joe Biden’s electoral victory. If Trump were still in power, new details of such abuses of power would surely be grounds for a third impeachment.
The shocking revelations of the past few weeks come at a time when Trump seems to be at least preparing the ground for a future presidential campaign. The former president has already severely damaged faith in the electoral system by convincing millions of his supporters that he was removed from power by fraud in a free and fair election that he clearly lost.
And the reluctance of the Republican Party to allow any consequences for his attack on democracy – as well as the efforts of many of its lawmakers and media propagandists to scrub history and create a whole new reality of the events surrounding the January 6 uprising – effectively clears the way for his political rehabilitation.
Recent events also undermine the arguments of Republican senators who were unwilling to condemn the former president in a second impeachment trial earlier this year in connection with the Capitol Rebellion. The idea that the process was unnecessary because Trump was no longer in power and could do no harm is now refuted by evidence of his violent behavior and attempts to rebuild his political career.
This attempt to avoid a full accounting of the events of January 6 is one of the reasons why the work of the recently formed House Select Committee on the Capitol Attack is so important. The committee’s final report, combined with the recent work of the Senate Judiciary Committee, offers the best chance to piece together an official account of one of the most complicated and tense transfers of presidential power in U.S. history.
That a candidate guilty of such clear abuses of power and with such autocratic and anti-democratic impulses is a realistic prospect for the presidential nomination from one of America’s major political parties is a commentary on the extraordinary current state of politics. It also means that whether he ends up running or not, Trump’s legacy of epic political corruption will pose a serious threat to a democratic tradition that most people thought invulnerable to challenge.