Report of Trump plot to oust acting attorney general precedes internal DOJ probe, lawyer condemnation
President Donald Trump. Photo from Shutterstock.com.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s internal watchdog is investigating whether any department official improperly tried to change the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
The DOJ’s Office of the Inspector General announced the probe Monday, report the Washington Post, the New York Times, CNN and Bloomberg.
The investigation follows two reports by the New York Times (here and here) on a plot to oust Acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and force Georgia to change election results. The stories, based on anonymous sources, said Jeffrey Clark, the acting head of the civil division, had discussed the idea with then-President Donald Trump.
The plan was to replace Rosen with Clark, an “unassuming lawyer” considered detail-oriented and hardworking, according to the New York Times. DOJ senior leaders planned a mass resignation if Rosen was removed, according to the New York Times.
The resignation agreement spurred Trump to reject the idea after he heard Rosen and Clark make their case “in a bizarre White House meeting,” the New York Times had reported.
Clark resigned from the DOJ on Jan. 14, according to Bloomberg.
Clark is a former Kirkland & Ellis partner who became acting head of the civil division in September after serving as head of the department’s environment and natural resources division, the National Law Journal reports. Rosen is also a former Kirkland partner.
Clark told the New York Times that “there was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the president,” but he had not formulated a plan to oust Rosen. “Senior Justice Department lawyers, not uncommonly, provide legal advice to the White House as part of our duties,” he said. “All my official communications were consistent with law.” He declined to elaborate further, saying his discussions were subject to legal privilege.
The National Law Journal published lawyers’ reactions to the New York Times’ reports.
“There must be accountability/consequences for all those who participated in the effort to subvert our democracy,” said Eric Holder, a former attorney general, on Twitter. “This is not something to be forgotten/seen as a policy dispute. Disciplinary bodies have a responsibility here. Participants must be shunned.”
“The threat of mass resignations ‘brought to mind the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of the Nixon era,’ ” tweeted Kathleen Clark, a professor at the Washington University School of Law in St. Louis. “But the better analogy is to the George W. Bush era, when top DOJ officials threatened to resign if Bush reauthorized warrantless surveillance.”
Mandy Gunasekara, who formerly worked with Clark when she was with the Environmental Protection Agency, defended him in an interview with the New York Times. Clark was most likely discussing a range of options, Gunasekara said.
“This is the first wave of character assassination, of people going after the most effective lawyers in the Trump administration,” she added.
Hat tip to @Phil_Mattingly.