Plotting in the Trump White House

Terry H. Schwadron

Oct. 9, 2021

There was little surprise in the disclosures this week of a Senate Judiciary Committee majority staff report detailing what amounts to a plot led by Donald Trump to overthrow last November’s election.

It was neither surprising that Trump would break federal law and ethical standards to stay in office nor that his own Justice Department office would threaten to resign en masse if Trump named Jeffrey lark, a Big Lie loyalist, as attorney general to stop the Electoral College results from being confirmed by Congress.

Nor was it surprising that Democratic-appointed staff investigators would uncover important details of what amounts to an attempted coup by Trump. Indeed, few media reports noted that it was assembled and written by the majority staff rather than by the committee as a whole — which would have meant that Republican members had signed on to fact-finding as well.

This was release of an eight-month investigation by Democrats alone. Republicans issued a separate report, which basically insists that in the end,Trump followed what his advisers told him.

The Judiciary Committee interviewed former Acting Atty. Gen. Jeffrey Rosen, former Acting Deputy Atty. Gen. Richard Donoghue, and former U.S. Atty. BJay Pak, and emails and written materials that show involvement of Republican members of Congress in the plot.

But it is as if Republicans heard different interviews than their counterpart, offering a kind of gold leaf shield of partisan hyperbole about what comes as close to coup planning as possible.

Ample Evidence

The details of the report are out, and appear not only well-researched, but are attached for the public as actual evidence.

The report, non-subtly entitled, “Subverting Justice: How the Former President and his Allies Pressured DOJ to Overturn the 2020 Election” details the circumstances leading to a Jan. 3 White House meeting in which the plan to replace Rosen with loyalist Clark was discussed.

As The New York Times summarized, the top leaders of the Justice Department warned that they and other senior officials would resign en masse if he followed through. They received immediate support from Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel and his top deputy, Patrick F. Philbin. Cipollone argued the plot was a “murder-suicide pact,” one participant recalled. Only near the end of the nearly three-hour meeting did Mr. Trump relent and agree to drop his threat.

Another section takes on the attempts to overturn election results in Georgia, where Trump arranged for dismissal of Pak for not jumping to pursue non-existent fraud.

Officially, this Judiciary Committee document is an interim report, since the panel is awaiting action by the National Archives to furnish documents, calendar appointments and communications involving the White House about efforts to subvert the election. That request was made in the Spring. The committee also is waiting to see whether Jeffrey Clark, who had been a lower rung Justice lawyer, will sit for an interview and help provide missing details about what was happening inside the White House during the Trump administration’s final weeks. The committee has asked the District of Columbia Bar, which licenses and disciplines attorneys, to open a disciplinary investigation into Clark based on its findings.

The sheer volume of evidentiary emails, phone logs and other documents that show involvement of former Atty. Gen. Bill Barr, and Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., for pressing the Justice Department to pursue baseless election fraud, as well as similar efforts by Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. Republicans simply put a different spin on those events as seeing Trump defending America elections rather than promoting his own cause.

For students of plots, there is plenty here to keep amused. For journalists, there is a certain irony is just how much of the plotting evidence is reflected in news reporting.

Jan. 6 Concerns

Much of this coup plotting is also the concern of the Jan. 6 select Congressional committee, which has subpoena power and expects to enforce it to bring an ever-increasing number of Trump advisors in for under-oath sessions.

Through a letter from one of his lawyers, Trump is telling those inner-circle members to ignore their subpoenas (one has yet to be served, apparently), risking criminal charges and possible imprisonment. Trump himself is sure to resist a subpoena when the committee gets to him and claim executive privilege for the right to plot against his own government.

Again, the curiosity is why Republicans in the main are more drawn to shield Trump’s lawlessness in these matters than in using all of it as a lessons-learned exercise.

What is not surprising, then, is how the report underscores the repeated attempts by Trump to promote unsubstantiated accounts of election fraud and demanding that the Justice Department jump on them.

It may be a bit self-serving, but the comments of Sen. Dick Durbin,

D-Ill., majority whip and head of the Judiciary Committee, are worth a moment: “Thanks to a number of upstanding Americans in the Department of Justice, Donald Trump was unable to bend the department to his will. But it was not due to a lack of effort.”

It shouldn’t be too much to demand that a potential 2024 candidate fully explain himself fully and under-oath.


Journalist, musician, community volunteer