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Why Trump’s ‘say the election was corrupt’ line seemed familiar

Trump told the Justice Department, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me" and GOP congressmen. He said something similar to Zelensky.


Yesterday’s Jan. 6 committee hearing covered a lot of ground, but there was a 16-word quote that former Attorney General Eric Holder described as a “smoking gun.” NBC News reported:

Former President Donald Trump sought inside help from the Justice Department to execute his campaign to reverse the 2020 election, according to evidence presented by the House Jan. 6 committee Thursday. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump implored top Justice officials in a Dec. 27, 2020, conversation memorialized in then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue’s contemporaneous notes.

According to the notes, as part of Trump’s interactions with senior Justice Department officials, then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen tried to explain to the then-president that the department could not and would not “snap its fingers” and help change the outcome of an American election. At that point, Trump said he had no such expectations.

What the Republican wanted instead was for senior Justice Department officials to simply go along with a political scam. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump said.

When they resisted, the then-president moved forward with a plot, which he later abandoned, in which he’d replace the acting attorney general with Jeffrey Clark — an unqualified loyalist who was prepared to go along with the scheme to overturn the election results.

But the fact that Trump made the comment in the first place was among the most important things he said during his White House tenure.

As Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of the Republican members of the bipartisan panel, explained yesterday, “The president wanted the top Justice Department officials to declare that the election was corrupt, even though he knew there was absolutely no evidence to support that statement. The president didn’t care about actually investigating the facts. He just wanted the Department of Justice to put its stamp of approval on the lies.”

Quite right. Trump had a lie and he needed it to be legitimized by federal law enforcement. If that happened, the White House, its messaging operation, and its shameless lackeys on Capitol Hill could leverage the lie and advance their plot to overturn the election.

To the extent that investigators are looking for evidence of corrupt intent, Donoghue’s contemporaneous, handwritten notes appear to have profound importance.

If this dynamic seemed at all familiar, it wasn’t your imagination: Trump approached Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky the same way in September 2019.

At the time, the Republican was withholding congressionally approved military aid to our ally. During a one-on-one phone call, when his counterpart in Kyiv broached the subject of assistance, Trump responded, “I would like you to do us a favor, though.”

What the then-American president wanted, of course, was for Zelensky to help with a Republican political scheme against Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election. Trump realized this was an extortion gambit. Indeed, that was the point.

Bill Taylor, a former leading U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, later told a House impeachment panel that, under Team Trump’s plan, Zelensky would appear on CNN and deliver the anti-Biden message the White House wanted to hear. According to Taylor, Trump personally helped dictate the demands, saying the Ukrainian leader should “clear things up and do it in public.”

“President Trump did insist that President Zelenskyy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelenskyy should want to do this himself,” Taylor told lawmakers.

It didn’t matter if there was no basis for an investigation. It didn’t even matter if the investigation produced any findings. What Trump wanted, and felt like he needed, was some kind of talking point he could leverage in a time of political need.

The Republican didn’t literally say, “Just say the Democrat is corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” but that was the unmistakable point.

Trump is, if nothing else, consistent in his depraved tactics.