In a telephone call in late December, then-President Donald Trump pressured senior Justice Department officials to declare the 2020 election "corrupt" in an effort to help him and his Republican allies in Congress try to overturn the outcome, according to documents provided to a House committee.
It was previously known that Trump publicly and privately pushed the Justice Department to investigate his baseless claims that the election was stolen, but the new documents — nine pages of contemporaneous notes from a Dec. 27 phone call between Trump, then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue — provide new insights into those efforts.
The notes, which were taken by Donoghue, show Trump raising his now-familiar falsehoods about rampant voter fraud in Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, Michigan and Pennsylvania.
"We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election," Trump is quoted as saying.
On the call, Rosen, who took over at the Justice Department after Attorney General William Barr resigned, and Donoghue push back. They tell Trump "the DOJ can't and won't snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election, doesn't work that way," the notes say.
Trump responds: "Don't expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R Congressmen."
Trump does not specify which congressmen, but at other points in the call, he mentions three Republican lawmakers by name: Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, whom he refers to as a "fighter"; Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania; and Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin, who Trump says "has done a great job getting to bottom of things."
There was no immediate response from Jordan's or Perry's offices. A spokeswoman for Johnson, Alexa Henning, said that "the senator had no conversations with President Trump about the DOJ questioning the election results" and that Johnson has acknowledged Joe Biden was the election victor ever since the Electoral College met, which occurred about two weeks before the Dec. 27 call.
Trump opens the call by telling Rosen that the "country is up in arms over the corruption," and he cites a number of falsehoods about alleged fraud.
"You guys may not be following the internet the way I do," Trump says, according to the notes. "People are angry — blaming DOJ + for inaction."
At one point, Donoghue tells the president that the department has looked into allegations of voter fraud, saying it has done dozens of investigations and hundreds of interviews. He and Rosen say the allegations "don't pan out" upon inspection.
"We are going our job," Donoghue said. "Much of the info you're getting is false."
Notes of the call were released to the House Oversight Committee, which obtained them as part of its investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
"These handwritten notes show that President Trump directly instructed our nation's top law enforcement agency to take steps to overturn a free and fair election in the final days of his presidency," the panel's chairwoman, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., said in a statement.
The Justice Department provided the notes, along with other documents, to the committee. The department has also said it will allow former senior DOJ officials, including Rosen and Donoghue, to testify before the committee about their conversations with the president.
The department normally seeks to shield such communications, but it says the "extraordinary events in this matter constitute exceptional circumstances warranting an accommodation to Congress."
One thread the committee is investigating is a scheme to replace Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, who at the time was the acting chief of the Civil Division and sympathetic to Trump's fraud claims.
During the Dec. 27 call, Trump raises Clark's name, telling Rosen and Donoghue: "People tell me that Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in."
Donoghue responds that Trump should have the leadership he wants, but that it won't change the department's position.
Department leaders planned to resign en masse if Trump ultimately dumped Rosen for Clark. The president, however, never went through with the plan.