The mainstream media has been promoting the story that, in early January, President Donald Trump entertained a plan to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with an Assistant Attorney General who wanted to pursue claims of voter fraud. The Assistant in question is Jeff Clark whom I got to know, and like, when Democrats were blocking his nomination.
The story, which first appeared in the New York Times, is that Clark came to believe that the election had been stolen from Trump. He wanted his boss, acting AG Rosen, to pursue the matter and to hold a news conference to announce that the DOJ was investigating serious allegations of fraud. Rosen refused.
Clark, the story continues, got the ear of President Trump who, as a result of their discussion, considered replacing Rosen with Clark. This led to a showdown meeting at the White House. According to the Washington Post:
At the meeting were Trump, Clark and Rosen, along with Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general; Steven A. Engel, the head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel; and Pat Cipollone, the White House counsel, the people familiar with the matter said. The people said Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and Cipollone pushed against the idea of replacing Rosen, and warned of a mass resignation.
Cipollone, one person said, pushed hard against a letter Clark wanted to send to Georgia state legislators, which wrongly asserted the department was investigating accusations of fraud in their state and Biden’s win should be voided, insisting it was based on a shoddy claim.
Trump decided not to replace Rosen and that was that.
Jeff Clark disputes much of the reporting about this matter. He states: “I categorically deny that I ‘devised a plan . . . to oust’ Jeff Rosen.” He also disputes claims that his view about the election was based on things he read on the internet:
Nor did I formulate recommendations for action based on factual inaccuracies gleaned from the Internet. My practice is to rely on sworn testimony to assess disputed factual claims.
Based on my interactions with Jeff Clark, I believe that his views about the election, whether correct or incorrect, were based on a reasoned analysis of sworn testimony, not internet jottings.
Jeff also says this:
There were no ‘maneuver[s].’ There was a candid discussion of options and pros and cons with the President. It is unfortunate that those who were part of a privileged legal conversation would comment in public about such internal deliberations, while also distorting any discussions. . . . Observing legal privileges, which I will adhere to even if others will not, prevent me from divulging specifics regarding the conversation.
I agree with these sentiments. This dispute was resolved in favor of Jeffrey Rosen and those on his side. There was no need for the winners to go the media, especially to the New York Times, a thoroughgoingly anti-conservative organ that consistently sided against the Trump DOJ. I don’t know who amongst this group did so, but he (or they) shouldn’t have.
Now that they have, how should we assess the matter?
First, Trump clearly didn’t do anything wrong. He rejected the idea of firing Rosen and having Clark send a letter to Georgia officials.
In any case, Trump was free to fire Rosen, as he was free to fire any cabinet member. If Trump had fired Rosen because he felt the acting AG wasn’t doing enough to counter election fraud, he would have been within his rights. There would have been no “coup.”
What about Jeff Clark? On Jeff’s account, he reviewed sworn testimony, concluded that the election had been marred by substantial fraud, and held a discussion of the matter with Trump and, eventually, key players at the DOJ who held the opposing view.
On this account, Jeff did nothing wrong, in my view. I would expect a high ranking DOJ official who, after reviewing evidence, believed the election was stolen to press the matter. A stolen presidential election would be a matter of gravest concern. It would justify going over the head of an acting AG who didn’t want to act (if that’s what Jeff did).
Was Jeff’s assessment of the evidence of fraud correct? To answer that, I’d have to know what evidence he relied on and review it myself. I’m not aware of evidence from which I can conclude the election was stolen. But that doesn’t mean the evidence doesn’t exist.
In any event, even if Jeff incorrectly assessed the evidence, he still would not have acted improperly by raising his concerns, first with his DOJ superiors and then with the president. A good faith belief that an election has been stolen should spur any public official to action.
On the account of Jeff’s adversaries in the media and among his former colleagues, Jeff naturally comes off looking worse. They create the impression that Jeff’s view of the election was based on unreliable sources and that he was plotting, rather than simply spurring a discussion.
But these conflicting characterizations aren’t material, in my view. Whatever the quality of the evidence Jeff relied on, it’s understandable that, believing the DOJ wasn’t taking allegations of fraud seriously, he would push to have them taken more seriously. And if he was being blocked in this regard, it is understandable that he would “maneuver” as he did.
More troubling to me is the claim that “Clark wanted to send [a letter] to Georgia state legislators, which wrongly asserted the department was investigating accusations of fraud.” I don’t know whether it’s true that Jeff wanted to send such a letter. However, if he had replaced Rosen, as Trump apparently contemplated, and immediately launched an investigation, the assertion that the department was investigating wouldn’t have been “wrongful.”
Some are saying that Jeff tried to pull off a coup at the DOJ. To me, this characterization is ridiculous. The decision whether to replace Rosen was always Trump’s. If Clark caused Trump to believe that Rosen was standing in the way of combatting fraud that Trump was already convinced had occurred, that’s far from plotting a coup.
Personally, I think Jeff exercised poor judgment. The cause was lost (maybe justly so, maybe not). Realistically, there was nothing to gain from encouraging Trump to fight on, and something to lose.
Trump played into his enemies’ hands by not having accepted the result of the election by the end of the year, if not sooner. He would have played into their hands even more had he fired Rosen and authorized Clark to send a letter to Georgia legislators.
But the vilification of Jeff by the media and, it seems, by some of his former colleagues is over the top. They are trying to destroy a good man and an outstanding lawyer. It’s clear to me that they want to prevent him from working again.
And Jeff isn’t the only target. There’s a movement to expel Sens. Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz from the Senate. Colleges are under pressure not to hire ex-Trump officials (not that it’s clear pressure is required). Law firms and corporations are likely facing similar pressure.
This is the politics of personal destruction. It’s another instance of the Democrats’ campaign to cancel political opponents, and another step down the road to the authoritarian rule they would like to impose on America.