Emails show pressure mounting on Atlanta U.S. attorney days before he resigned

The U.S. House Oversight Committee has asked former U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak to come in for questioning about how officials in then-President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice may have tried to pressure him to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com
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The U.S. House Oversight Committee has asked former U.S. Attorney for Northern District of Georgia BJay Pak to come in for questioning about how officials in then-President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice may have tried to pressure him to overturn the presidential election results in Georgia. Curtis Compton ccompton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

Pak says he will answer House Oversight Committee’s questions

WASHINGTON — Emails released by the U.S. House Oversight Committee shed new light on how officials in then-President Donald Trump’s Department of Justice homed in on Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak days before he abruptly resigned.

The Trump allies were simultaneously pushing a false narrative that fraud and mismanagement were behind Joe Biden’s win in Georgia. After three days of being pulled into conversations with top Justice Department leaders, Pak stepped down weeks ahead of his scheduled retirement.

Democrats on the Oversight Committee say the emails show that Trump attempted to use federal resources and personnel to overturn the 2020 election. Georgia was among a handful of swing states that Biden won during the general election, but Trump and his supporters went on a weeks-long crusade to flip the outcome.

The committee wants Pak and other former Trump administration officials who sent the messages to come in for questioning. Pak told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he plans to do so, although scheduling and other logistics still need to be worked out.

He declined to comment Tuesday about the contents of the emails. Oversight Chairwoman Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said answers that he and others can provide are crucial to the panel’s investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, when Trump supporters interrupted the tallying of Electoral College votes that confirmed Biden’s victory.

“These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost,” Maloney said in a statement. “Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the Committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy.

On New Year’s Day, a Friday, Jeffrey Clark, who was then head of the Justice Department’s civil division, exchanged messages with then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. The subject line of the thread was simply “Atlanta,” and it indicated that Rosen wanted Clark to give Pak a call.

The Oversight Committee’s report on the documents said that was also the day that then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows told Rosen to ask Clark to look into allegations that Fulton County had not properly enforced signature-matching laws for absentee ballots.

The next morning, Rosen asked Clark whether there was any follow-up. Clark’s response indicates that he may have been attempting to speak with Pak about an allegation made by Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani that there was video showing Fulton County elections workers tallying ballots pulled from suitcases.

“I spoke to the source and am on with the guy who took the video right now,” Clark wrote that Saturday morning. “Working on it. More due diligence to do.”

Later that day, Trump had a phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. During the secretly recorded conversation, the president referred to a “Never Trumper U.S. attorney” while discussing the videos. Trump also urged Raffensperger to find enough votes needed to give him the win in Georgia over Biden.

Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue emailed Pak at 10:09 p.m. on the following Sunday night. “Please call ASAP,” the subject line said.

At 7:41 the next morning, Pak emailed Donoghue two resignation letters. One was addressed to Trump and the other to Rosen. He doesn’t provide a reason for stepping down in either letter.

The Wall Street Journal later reported that White House officials pressured Pak to resign because they did not feel he was pursuing voter fraud allegations aggressively enough.

Minutes after sending his resignation letter, Pak typed a separate email to the other 92 U.S. attorneys. In it, he expresses gratitude to colleagues who worked to make the country better and safer “even though we are facing unprecedented challenges.”

“I do wish and hope,” he continued, “that at least some of you will consider continuing to serve our country — our nation needs patriots like you to uphold the rule of law.”