WASHINGTON — During the last weeks of his presidency, Donald Trump and his allies pressured the Justice Department to investigate unsubstantiated claims of widespread 2020 election fraud that even his former attorney general declared without evidence, newly released emails show.
The emails, released Tuesday by the House Oversight Committee, reveal in new detail how Trump, his White House chief of staff and other allies pressured members of the U.S. government to challenge the 2020 election over false claims.
Officials at Homeland Security and the Justice Department, as well as Republican election leaders across the country, repeatedly said there was no pervasive fraud. Former Attorney General William Barr, a longtime Trump loyalist, was among those who said there was no evidence of such fraud.
The emails also show the extent to which Trump worked to enlist then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in his campaign’s failing legal efforts to challenge the election result, including suggesting filing a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Those sent to Rosen include debunked conspiracy theories and false information about voter fraud. Trump's lies about the election helped spur on the mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 in a failed effort to stop the certification of Joe Biden's victory.
Several times, for example, Trump allies wrote about Dominion Voting Systems' potential voter fraud, a conspiracy theory now the subject of a billion-dollar defamation lawsuit by the voting company. Trump's chief of staff, Mark Meadows, asked about investigating allegations of voter fraud caused by satellites from Italy.
Meadows tried to have Rosen investigate the conspiracy theories and pushed the acting attorney general to meet with an ally of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani who was pitching unfounded election conspiracies that Italy was using satellites and military technology to change votes.
After Rosen forwarded Meadows’ email, Rich Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general, sent a note to Rosen that said, “pure insanity.” Rosen wrote back that he was asked to have the FBI meet with Giuliani’s associate and he said no, insisting the man could follow the FBI’s normal protocol for tips and just call the public tip line or take his information to an FBI field office. But Rosen said Giuliani was “insulted” by the answer.
“Asked if I would reconsider, I flatly refused, said I would not be giving any special treatment to Giuliani or any of his ‘witnesses,’ and re-affirmed yet again that I will not talk to Giuliani about any of this,” Rosen wrote.
On Dec. 14, the day that Electoral College votes were certified and that Barr said he would be resigning later that month, a Trump White House assistant sent a note to Rosen with the subject “From POTUS,” an acronym for president of the United States. The email to Rosen, a deputy attorney general who became acting attorney general after Barr left, included talking points on alleged voter fraud in Antrim County, in a key battleground state, Michigan, Those included claims like “a Cover-up is Happening regarding voting machines in Michigan” and “Michigan cannot certify for Biden.”
Just moments after the Trump assistant sent the documents, Donoghue sent the same documents to the U.S. attorneys in the Eastern and Western districts of Michigan.
On Dec. 29, the Trump assistant emailed Rosen, Donoghue and Acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall and included a draft legal brief for the Supreme Court, with a phone number where they could contact the president directly. The proposed complaint asked the court to "declare that the Electoral College votes cast” in the six battleground states that Trump lost “cannot be counted.” It asked for the court to order a special election in those states.
One of Trump's private attorneys then emailed senior Justice officials urging them to file the complaint. The emails show he repeatedly called Rosen's senior advisers and others in the Justice Department demanding meetings, saying he was driving from Maryland to Justice Department headquarters in Washington to meet with Rosen because he couldn't reach him.
“As I said on our call, the President of the United States has seen this complaint, and he directed me last night to brief AG Rosen in person today and discuss bringing this action," he wrote in one email. “I have been instructed to report back to the President this afternoon after this meeting.”
The Associated Press reported late last year on the effort within the Trump administration to pressure government employees to adopt the false narrative of 2020 election fraud. Trump asked the Justice Department to investigate instances of voter fraud, and Justice leaders sent a memo to the states prioritizing the effort. Trump also asked that a special prosecutor be named to investigate the false voter fraud claims.
And the official serving as Trump’s eyes and ears at the Justice Department tried to pressure staffers to give up sensitive information about election fraud and other matters she could relay to the White House. She was banned from the building.
Trump considered replacing Rosen with a more loyal ally, Jeffrey Clark, and even looked into whether the White House could appoint a special counsel without the Justice Department’s approval. On Jan. 1, for example, Meadows asked Rosen to have Clark investigate “signature match anomalies in Fulton county, GA.”
It didn't happen, and on Jan. 3 another Justice official wrote that the “cause of justice won.”
Three days later, hundreds of pro-Trump rioters broke into the Capitol, attacking police and causing dozens of injuries, causing $1.5 million in damage and sending lawmakers fleeing for their lives. Five people died, including a police officer who collapsed that day. At least 400 people have been arrested in connection with the riot, the largest Justice Department prosecution in history.