The controversy was soon overshadowed by the attack on the U.S. Capitol, but there was a striking series of events days earlier involving Donald Trump, the presidential election, and the state of Georgia. It started on Saturday, Jan. 2, when the then-president told Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R) he wanted someone to "find" enough votes to flip the state in his favor. A day later, the public heard a recording of the scandalous phone meeting.
Byung J. Pak, a former U.S. attorney in Atlanta, told congressional investigators on Wednesday that his abrupt resignation in January had been prompted by Justice Department officials' warning that President Donald J. Trump intended to fire him for refusing to say that widespread voter fraud had been found in Georgia, according to a person familiar with his testimony.
All of this is coming to the fore now thanks in large part to a Senate investigation into Trump's post-election abuses. Pak offered closed-door testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday, speaking to members and their aides for more than three hours.
What the Judiciary Committee heard was another important piece of a larger puzzle: Trump was told that Pak had investigated voter-fraud allegations but couldn't find any evidence to substantiate the Republican's conspiracy theories. For the then-president, this wasn't acceptable.
As the Times' report added, Justice Department officials told the Trump-appointed prosecutor that the then-president intended to fire him "over his refusal to say that the results in Georgia had been undermined by voter fraud," and so Pak preempted a public dismissal by stepping down.
In yesterday's testimony, the former U.S. attorney also told the panel that state officials and the FBI invested efforts into vetting Trump's fraud claims, but they couldn't find evidence to validate them.
Pak was soon after succeeded by a Trump-approved successor, Bobby Christine, who was presumably brought in to tell the Republican White House what it wanted to hear. As we discussed several months ago, however, that didn't work out at all: Christine couldn't find any evidence of election irregularities in Georgia, either.
In other words, Trump wanted Pak out because the then-president believed the federal prosecutor was failing to take seriously evidence of election fraud. Trump then tapped Bobby Christine for the job, only to discover that Christine couldn't find evidence of election fraud, either.
Regardless, the Pak story, at face value, offers fresh evidence of Team Trump not only politicizing federal law enforcement as part of an anti-election scheme, but also retaliating against one of his own prosecutors for failing to play along with a lie.
Making matters slightly worse is the larger context regarding the Justice Department. As Rachel explained last night, while Pak struggled to find evidence in Georgia to make the White House happy, Trump was leaning on then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and then-acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue. As you may recall, when Rosen wouldn't help try to overturn the election results, Trump considered a gambit in which he'd fire Rosen and replace him with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department who was far more willing to embrace the anti-election scheme.
The then-president backed off, not because the plan was stark raving mad -- though it certainly was -- but because the Justice Department's senior leadership team threatened to resign en masse if Rosen was ousted. Trump decided such tumult would "eclipse any attention on his baseless accusations of voter fraud."
This wasn't just some random thought experiment. The New York Times previously reported that there was a "bizarre" presidential meeting in January in which Rosen and Clark made competing presentations, which "officials compared with an episode of Mr. Trump's reality show 'The Apprentice,' albeit one that could prompt a constitutional crisis."
It was hours after that meeting when Donoghue, the #2 official in the Justice Department at the time, sent a late-night email to Pak, asking the prosecutor to call him as soon as possible. The next morning, the prosecutor resigned, soon after receiving an email from Donoghue thanking him for stepping down -- suggesting that Pak may have acted at the Justice Department's request.
The investigation continues. Watch this space.