Election intrigue: Trump’s ‘disturbing’ Georgia fixation

In December, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published a detailed account of efforts by then-President Donald Trump and some Georgia Republicans to overturn Joe Biden’s victory. Here’s an excerpt from that account, focusing on Trump’s effort to enlist the Department of Justice to help him overturn the election. The DOJ intrigue is the focus of a congressional hearing Thursday. You can read the full AJC account of events in Georgia here.

As 2020 drew to a close, U.S. Attorney Byung “BJay” Pak got a disturbing phone call from Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general.

It was Dec. 30 or 31 — Pak couldn’t recall which. Donoghue “was very frustrated because the president was solely focused on Georgia with respect to any voter fraud allegations,” Pak told U.S. Senate investigators during a deposition months later.

Donoghue said Trump “just would not believe that he lost Georgia.”

Pak was the top federal prosecutor in Atlanta. He found Trump’s fraud fixation “kind of disturbing” because his own Justice Department had investigated “several allegations” in Georgia since the election.

“Obviously, we concluded that there was nothing there,” Pak said in his deposition.

Pak himself had reviewed a key piece of evidence: video from State Farm Arena that Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani had called a “smoking gun” at a state Senate hearing Dec. 3.

The day after that hearing, U.S. Attorney General William Barr had asked Pak to make investigating the video a “top priority,” Pak told Senate investigators. A few days later, Pak obtained the video, along with audio recordings of witness interviews conducted by the Georgia secretary of state’s office.

State investigators had already concluded that the video showed nothing improper. After watching the video and listening to the interviews, Pak agreed. At about the same time, the FBI interviewed election workers and also concluded “there was nothing irregular about the events,” Pak told investigators.

During their phone call, Donoghue had more disturbing news. Jeffrey Clark, a Trump ally in the Justice Department, was pressing DOJ officials to aid the president’s effort to overturn the election in Georgia.

Clark wanted to send a letter urging Georgia officials to consider appointing a new slate of presidential electors, citing “significant concerns” about the election. Trump allies were also pressing the DOJ to join a new lawsuit before the U.S. Supreme Court that sought to overturn the election in Georgia and other states Biden won.

One problem: The DOJ had no significant concerns. As evidence of fraud, the letter and the lawsuit cited state Sen. William Ligon’s one-sided report, which regurgitated Trump’s allegations without investigating them.

Aiding Trump would be an extraordinary intervention in U.S. politics by the Justice Department. Pak was stunned by what Donoghue was telling him.

“And I said, ‘Well, that seems — that’s very — that’s crazy,’” Pak told Senate investigators. “‘That’s just highly crazy.’”

Donoghue agreed it was “batshit crazy.”

Top DOJ officials told Clark they would not send his letter to Georgia and other states that Biden won, according to the Senate investigation report. They told Trump the department would not file the lawsuit.

During the phone call, Pak agreed the department should not file a lawsuit “that’s not substantiated by any evidence.” Donoghue told Pak that Trump might contact him directly.

“And I said, ‘Well, he could call me all he wants,’” Pak responded. “‘The answer is not going to change.’”

The president never called. But Trump remained fixated on Georgia — as Pak would soon learn.