Donald Trump had a whole lot to say to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) on Saturday, during a scandalous phone meeting in which the outgoing president pushed for someone to "find" enough votes to flip the state in his favor. But there was one line that came so quickly, it didn't even show up in some the transcripts.
About halfway through the call, the president referred to a federal prosecutor in Georgia -- whom he appointed -- as a "never-Trumper." It's a phrase he often uses to describe Republicans who oppose him in some capacity he finds outrageous.
A day later, the public heard the recording, leading more than a few legal experts to wonder whether the president crossed legal lines. It was against this backdrop that a Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney in Georgia announced his sudden and unexpected resignation. The Associated Press reported:
The top federal prosecutor in Atlanta left his position Monday, a day after an audio recording was made public in which President Donald Trump called him a "never-Trumper." Byung J. "BJay" Pak, who was appointed by Trump, announced his resignation as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia in a news release. The statement did not say why Pak was leaving or what he plans to do next.
The context and the calendar make the developments that much more extraordinary. As Rachel noted on the show last night, Trump seemed to threaten state election officials in Georgia during Saturday's phone meeting. Two days later, the U.S. Attorney in Georgia, who was supposed to exit on Jan. 20, announced his resignation, effective immediately.
We don't yet know what precipitated Pak's departure. Perhaps there was a family matter; perhaps Pak was asked to participate in a dubious scheme he was uncomfortable with; perhaps it was something else entirely.
But while there was no shortage of questions about why Pak suddenly quit, the day after a scandalous recording emerged, there were related questions about who would take the prosecutor's place for the remainder of Trump's term. With this in mind, TPM reported this morning that the president is bypassing Pak's first assistant, a career prosecutor, and instead appointed a new acting leader from outside the office.
The new acting U.S. attorney in Atlanta will be Bobby Christine, the Trump-appointed U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Georgia, according to the email. Christine will continue simultaneously in both roles, according to the email. The email announcing the changes came from Kurt Erskine, the first assistant U.S. attorney. By putting Christine in the role, the Trump administration passed over Erskine, a longtime DOJ prosecutor.
Christine's updated Justice Department biography says he was appointed as Pak's successor "by written order of the President."
Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) described this as "completely unacceptable," adding in a tweet that Trump's Justice Department tried to do the same thing in the Southern District of New York, when then-Attorney General Bill Barr "ousted U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman and then lied about what he did. We need to know why Pak resigned ASAP. The rule of law must be protected."
Watch this space.