Combined with a Capitol insurrection that would frighten more than 147 legislators to overturn the Electoral College, an acting AG replaced by a Trump crony could have fronted a successful coup d’état. This does explain the placement of various “acting” Trump appointees at DoD in the closing months, as if there was some expectation of “friendly” military and police participants in the insurrection.
Then-President Donald Trump in early January entertained a plan to replace the acting attorney general with a different Justice Department lawyer who was more amenable to pursuing his unfounded claims of voter fraud, nearly touching off a crisis at the country’s premier federal law enforcement institution, people familiar with the matter said.
The plan — if enacted — would have pushed out Jeffrey Rosen as the acting attorney general and installed in his place Jeffrey Clark, whom Trump had appointed to lead the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division and who later would come to lead the Civil Division. Clark, then, could have taken steps to wield the Justice Department’s power to help keep Trump in office. But the president was ultimately dissuaded from moving forward after a high-stakes meeting with those involved, the people said.
Throughout his four years in office, Trump persistently pushed the Justice Department to make moves to benefit himself and his friends, though his moves in his final days in office threatened to be particularly damaging. Even former attorney general William P. Barr — who had been one of Trump’s most loyal and effective Cabinet secretaries — had publicly broken with the president on the issue of voter fraud, declaring publicly that investigators had found no evidence of substantial malfeasance that might affect the result of the election.
Clark, the people said, somehow connected with Trump and conveyed he felt fraud had impacted the election results. Then Clark began pressuring Rosen and others to do more on voter fraud — such as holding a news conference to announce they were investigating serious allegations, or taking particular steps in Georgia — though Rosen refused. At some point, Rosen was informed Clark would replace him, and he pushed for a meeting with Trump in person, the people said. It was theoretically possible that, if Clark were installed, he could push for some type of challenge to the election results.
At the meeting were Trump, Clark and Rosen, along with Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general; Steven A. Engel, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, the people familiar with the matter said. The people said Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and Cipollone pushed against the idea of replacing Rosen, and warned of a mass resignation.
Cipollone, one person said, pushed hard against a letter Clark wanted to send to Georgia state legislators, which wrongly asserted the department was investigating accusations of fraud in their state and Biden’s win should be voided, insisting it was based on a shoddy claim.
“Pat pretty much saved Rosen’s job that day,” said one senior Trump White House official.
Trump ultimately left Rosen in place.
The acting head of DOJ’s civil division spoke with Trump about a plan to stop the steal; and then told Acting AG Rosen that he was gonna be replaced in order for the plan to be implemented. And then DOJ senior leaders said they would quit en masse.
The Capitol mob didn’t come out of nowhere. It was a response to the concerted attack on 2020’s election results crafted by elite right-wing politicians, academics, and attorneys. No law professor played a bigger role in Donald Trump’s plot to overturn the election than John Eastman. As the president’s actual attorneys backed away from his coup, Eastman rushed in to fill the void, attempting to bolster the scheme with incoherent legal theories. When Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton urged the Supreme Court to overturn the election by nullifying millions of votes, it was Eastman who intervened on Trump’s behalf to endorse Paxton’s suit. When Trump exhorted Vice President Mike Pence to award him a second term by unilaterally disqualifying electoral votes, it was Eastman who advised Pence that he could, indeed, throw the election to Trump. And when Trump needed a putative legal scholar to lend credence to his pre-insurrection rally, he brought out Eastman to deliver a speech alongside Rudy Giuliani, ringleader of the president’s efforts to steal the election.
It is no surprise that Eastman, a white supremacist on the far-right fringe of the conservative legal movement, played a major role in the president’s failed coup. What is remarkable—and, with each passing day, extraordinarily damning—is the Federalist Society’s refusal to address Eastman’s role in the insurrection. Eastman is not only a member of the Federalist Society, the network of conservative attorneys that provided the legal scaffolding for Trumpism. He is the chairman of the organization’s Federalism and Separation of Powers practice group and a frequent participant in its public events. The Federalist Society’s refusal to expel, condemn, or distance itself from Eastman in any way indicates that the organization is untroubled by the subversion of American democracy.