Senate Judiciary GOP argues claims of Trump pressure on DOJ after presidential election are overblown

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Republicans and Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee are releasing dueling reports on former President Donald Trump’s alleged pressure on the Justice Department (DOJ) to investigate election-related claims during December 2020, with Republicans calling their counterparts’ claims overblown.

The GOP report, which was spearheaded by Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, cited interviews with top Justice Department officials, including former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, to argue that Trump and his top staffers “did not pressure” the DOJ to investigate specific election claims. 

It also played down Trump’s alleged zeal to follow through an idea from former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark to send a letter asking state legislatures to consider appointing replacement electors, and to fire Rosen.

The GOP report, for example, described a much-reported Jan. 3 White House meeting as an effort to “formally and finally decide the issues at play, which were two-fold: whether to send Clark’s draft letter and whether to remove Rosen as acting attorney general and replace him with Clark.”

GOP Minority Staff Report o… by Fox News

The GOP report says Trump “listened to all seven individuals” in the meeting and that it “culminated in President Trump rejecting sending Clark’s draft letter and rejecting terminating Rosen.”

The Republicans’ report came to significantly different conclusions than the Democrats’ interim report on the committee’s investigation. The New York Times published many of the details of that report Thursday, including that it likely will be released to the public this week. 

According to The Times, the Democrats’ report characterized the Jan. 3 meeting as an intense exchange in which multiple top Trump officials threatened to resign in order to stop Trump from going forward with a “murder-suicide pact.” 

“This report shows the American people just how close we came to a constitutional crisis,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., whose office led the committee’s main report, said, as The Times reported. 

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, in October 2020.
(Susan Walsh / POOL /AFP via Getty Images, File)

The Republicans’ report, meanwhile, presented the same Jan. 3 exchange noted in The Times as having happened in a more businesslike fashion. 

“[Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard] Donoghue noted in his testimony that, until this meeting, President Trump did not fully understand the gravity of his advisors’ concerns with Clark’s plan, which were serious enough that they and other senior DOJ leaders had stated they would resign if Clark was made Acting Attorney General and his plan was implemented,” the GOP report said. 

“President Trump then turned to Donoghue and asked if he would resign if Clark became Acting Attorney General, to which he answered in the affirmative,” it continued. “President Trump also asked [then-Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel] Steve Engel, to which he also answered in the affirmative. When he had heard all views, President Trump rejected Clark’s proposals and accepted his advisors’ recommendations.”

“I don’t know how you can reach any conclusion, except that Trump had everybody in the White House to discuss it and unanimously except for one they said you shouldn’t do what the one lawyer said he thought the president ought to do. The president rejected it. The President did the right thing,” Grassley said when asked about the Democrats’ report. 

“The president and the White House, particularly a man named Jeffrey Clark… put a full court press on the acting attorney general to try to enlist them in overturning the results of the last election,” Durbin said of his interpretation of the report. “It was relentless.”

The investigation is notably not over, as Democrats’ report is technically an interim report. The committee still has not interviewed Clark himself, for example. 

The GOP report also downplayed the alleged severity of actions by Trump and his advisers in relation to the Justice Department on several other topics. 

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaking before the Judiciary Committee in October 2020.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh, Pool, File)

“Witnesses testified that [then-Chief of Staff] Mark Meadows did not pressure them to take action relating to investigating election allegations and was deferential to DOJ’s judgment,” one line from the report’s executive summary read.

“Witnesses testified that they were not pressured by President Trump or the White House to take action with respect to investigating certain election fraud claims,” another line said. 

“President Trump wanted to fire – but did not fire – [former U.S. Attorney] BJay Pak primarily because he believed Pak was a ‘never-Trumper,’” added another. 

But, despite the GOP’s characterization of the Trump White House’s interactions with the Justice Department specifically, the former president actively was pushing false claims that the presidential election was stolen during this time period. And, just days after the Jan. 3 meeting, Trump notably urged then-Vice President Mike Pence and congressional Republicans to overturn the presidential election results when Congress convened to count electoral votes. 

Just eight Senate Republicans voted to do so, and Grassley was not one of them. 

Fox News’ Kelly Laco and Jason Donner contributed to this report.

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