EXCLUSIVE | OPINION: BJay Pak’s strange - and Trumpian - election journey

U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, (right) in August, leaving the federal building to speak to the media after hearings on charges against former city of Atlanta officials. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

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U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak, (right) in August, leaving the federal building to speak to the media after hearings on charges against former city of Atlanta officials. BOB ANDRES /BANDRES@AJC.COM

It was Jan. 6, a year ago, and BJay Pak was walking with his daughters at Stone Mountain. Two days earlier, he had resigned his post as the U.S. Attorney in Northern Georgia because Donald Trump and his flunkies were miffed that Pak was not digging up what wasn’t there — widespread fraud in Georgia’s 2020 presidential election.

He figured fresh air and family time would help temper the unrelenting insanity that had been his existence for weeks.

While walking, Pak got a call telling him the U.S. Capitol was under siege. Minutes later, a stranger approached. “Aren’t you BJay Pak?” he asked.

Pak, who was masked, was not carrying his pistol this day. He stood in front of his girls, concerned who this might be. In recent weeks, election workers had been followed from work and threatened at home. And Pak’s was a face often on TV. Was this some ardent partisan angry that Pak was not ferreting out fraud?

No. The man simply thanked him for his service.

Pak, in his first lengthy interview since resigning a year ago, said he had never been a fearful fellow (although he sometimes packed heat). “But I figured if they’re storming the capital, Lord knows what people will do.”

It was a worrying time of lies, conspiracies and angry, unstable people. It remains that way, as a good chunk of the population still believes the election was stolen — well more than half of Republicans, according to polls.

Last week, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a long story detailing the birth, nurturing and spread of Trump’s Big Lie in Georgia. That story recounts Pak testifying in August before the Senate Judiciary Committee and perfectly summing up the atmosphere surrounding the White House.

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A U.S. Capitol Police officer is surrounded by rioters at a door on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

A U.S. Capitol Police officer is surrounded by rioters at a door on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

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A U.S. Capitol Police officer is surrounded by rioters at a door on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Credit: John Minchillo

Credit: John Minchillo

Pak was testifying about the unrelenting pressure from Trump’s team, who seemingly wanted Justice officials to bend the law and accept facts from an alternate universe.

“Well, that seems — that’s very — that’s crazy,’” Pak recalled telling Richard Donoghue, then the acting deputy attorney general. “That’s just highly crazy.”

Donoghue agreed, saying it was “bat(shoot) crazy.”

What was so crazy?

It was during a phone call either Dec. 30 or 31, 2020 when Donoghue told Pak that a Trump loyalist in the Justice department wanted to enlist that agency’s help to overthrow the election in Georgia. The official wanted to send a letter to Georgia’s legislators urging them to throw out the presidential electors and consider installing a new slate, citing “significant concerns” about the election.

Amongst those “concerns” were allegations of fraud that already had been debunked, like the so-called “suitcases of illegal votes” found election night at the Fulton County counting center. Pak knew state election officials and the FBI had already shot down that claim of fraud. In fact, he knew of no confirmed fraud in the state.

At that moment, Pak told me, the scary reality of the situation sank in. “One thing I wasn’t aware of (until then) was how far along they were (with this plan) and were trying to go,” he recalled.

In this struggle, “there were enablers and there were people holding the line,” Pak said. “I can’t say enough about my friend, Rich Donoghue. He’s a true American hero.

“I think in the end, in the Department of Justice, the people who uphold the law won out.”

Pak is a former Republican state representative from Gwinnett County and was appointed as U.S. Attorney by Trump. But the former president grew angry with Pak, thinking he was a Never Trumper because he was not finding fraud. Ultimately, Trump wanted him fired.

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201203-Atlanta- Jacki Pick points out what she considered suspicious activity on surveillance video of the Fulton County absentee vote counting room as she and Rudy Giuliani address a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

201203-Atlanta- Jacki Pick points out what she considered suspicious activity on surveillance video of the Fulton County absentee vote counting room as she and Rudy Giuliani address a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

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201203-Atlanta- Jacki Pick points out what she considered suspicious activity on surveillance video of the Fulton County absentee vote counting room as she and Rudy Giuliani address a subcommittee of the state Senate judiciary committee at the State Capitol on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. Ben Gray for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Ben Gray

Credit: Ben Gray

Pak told me he started thinking about his own resignation in mid-December 2020 when U.S. Attorney Bill Barr announced he would be leaving. Pak knew that Barr, a staunch Republican with long experience in Washington, often had to play the adult in the room in the Trump White House.

“I don’t know if people know how much he was telling the White House ‘You can’t do that,’“ Pak told me. “He was trying to keep the craziness at bay.”

I told him Republican politics has become like professional wrestling when it comes to conspiracies around the 2020 election: In wrestling, the participants and fans all know it’s fake, but there’s a collective disbelief of that truth to hold the whole enterprise together. So, too, in Trump’s GOP.

I asked Pak if he thought voters and the politicians pushing these conspiracies really believe them?

“I hope they truly don’t believe this stuff; I hope they’re just frustrated,” he said. “If people ignore the objective truth, you can never get a meeting of the mind. I do wonder about the permanent damage this can do to our electoral process.”

Pak is trying to be optimistic. After all, it’s a New Year, he said.

But, it’s also an election year.

“I think President Trump will be back in Georgia,” Pak said, noting that Trump has made several endorsements in key races here. “Similar themes will make a cameo in the election coming up.”

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081220 Atlanta: U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Georgia (NDOGA) BJay Pak speaks during a press conference on the seizure of a mammoth quantity of 170 kilograms of heroin, multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, multi-pound quantities of marijuana, over $1.5 “mil” in cash and 40 plus firearms on Wednesday, August 11, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

081220 Atlanta: U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Georgia (NDOGA) BJay Pak speaks during a press conference on the seizure of a mammoth quantity of 170 kilograms of heroin, multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, multi-pound quantities of marijuana, over $1.5 “mil” in cash and 40 plus firearms on Wednesday, August 11, 2020 in Atlanta.   Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

caption arrowCaption
081220 Atlanta: U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Georgia (NDOGA) BJay Pak speaks during a press conference on the seizure of a mammoth quantity of 170 kilograms of heroin, multi-kilogram quantities of cocaine, multi-pound quantities of marijuana, over $1.5 “mil” in cash and 40 plus firearms on Wednesday, August 11, 2020 in Atlanta. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Credit: Curtis Compton

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