It was just 10 days ago when the New York Times first reported that then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows "repeatedly" pushed federal law enforcement to "investigate unfounded conspiracy theories" in the aftermath of the 2020 election. At times, the lobbying got quite weird: Meadows thought Jeffrey Rosen, then the acting attorney general, should look into the idea that a contractor in Italy used military satellites to tamper with U.S. voting machines.
The then-White House chief of staff even sent Rosen a YouTube link from a conspiracy theorist who'd been pushing the bonkers "Italygate" theory online.
At face value, the revelations shed new light on the frantic efforts from Team Trump to cling to power after voters rendered their verdict, as well as the ridiculous ideas the Republican White House was prepared to entertain. But just below the surface, the story took on greater significance: Team Trump saw the Justice Department, not as an independent law-enforcement agency, but as an extension of the White House's political operations.
Meadows was participating in a scheme to overturn election results Republicans didn't like, and he expected the attorney general and the Justice Department to join the crusade.
And according to a New York Times report published this morning, Meadows' boss at the time expected the same thing.
An hour before President Donald J. Trump announced in December that William P. Barr would step down as attorney general, the president began pressuring Mr. Barr's eventual replacement to have the Justice Department take up his false claims of election fraud. Mr. Trump sent an email via his assistant to Jeffrey A. Rosen, the incoming acting attorney general, that contained documents purporting to show evidence of election fraud in northern Michigan — the same claims that a federal judge had thrown out a week earlier in a lawsuit filed by one of Mr. Trump's personal lawyers.
Soon after, another Trump email to Rosen included a draft brief, pushing nonsensical election claims, the then-president wanted the Justice Department to file to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The layers of madness are head-spinning. Start with the fact that an American president wanted to nullify the results of his own country's election. Add the steps that the president and his team took to execute their scheme. Then add the utterly absurd conspiracy theories the Republican White House embraced to justify their attacks on our democracy.
And then add the then-president's willingness to break down the walls that were designed to protect the independence of federal law enforcement.
Republicans were hysterical for years about Bill Clinton exchanging pleasantries with then-Attorney General Lorretta Lynch on a tarmac, seeing it as an outrageous example of a former president trying to interfere with the Justice Department's actions. But four years later, a sitting president sent emails to an attorney general, lobbying him to bolster a scheme to undermine an American election.
House Oversight Committee Chair Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) said the emails "show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation's chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost."
If there's a more charitable interpretation of the materials, I can't think of it.