June 24, 2022 | Reading Time: 3 minutes
The battle of the Jeffs
The fate of the Justice Department and Trump’s coup.
Editor’s note. This story is too important to put behind a paywall. –JS
Thursday’s J6 committee hearing recounted the historic Battle of the Jeffs, a titanic bureaucratic struggle between the former president and the top brass at the Department of Justice that nearly put a frothing MAGA conspiracy theorist in charge of the nation’s top law enforcement agency on the eve of the J6 coup attempt.
Three days before the insurrection, the former president sat down with acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen, top lawyers from the Department of Justice and an obscure environmental lawyer from the department’s Civil Division named Jeff Clark. Trump had decided to replace Jeff Rosen with Jeff Clark.
If Jeff Clark had taken over the Justice Department, he would have been in a position to start acting on MAGAland’s demands to arrest Trump’s political enemies on the eve of the coup.
This was an alarming development because Clark, whose home was raided by the FBI Wednesday, had no qualifications to lead the DOJ besides his fervent belief in MAGA election conspiracy theories and his fanatical personal loyalty to Trump. Trump outlined his plan during the meeting. He wanted Clark to put the Justice Department’s stamp of approval on the fake allegations of election fraud by pretending to investigate them and ordering state legislators to do the same.
“Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me,” Trump told the lawyers, displaying once again his disregard for the truth.
The committee heard that Clark had gone rogue in the days prior, flouting DOJ rules and the direct orders of his superiors to meet with Trump and Pennsylvania Congressman Scott Perry, a Republican, at the White House to plot to overturn the election.
Clark had already drafted a letter from the Department of Justice to Georgia state legislators asserting, baselessly, that there were significant irregularities in the presidential election in that state.
The letter further recommended that the Georgia legislature convene a special session to investigate these so-called “irregularities.” White House Counsel Pat Cippolone described the letter as a “murder-suicide pact” and warned that it would taint any official who touched it. DOJ’s top lawyers were adamant. This letter must not be sent.
The supposedly nonpartisan imprimatur of the nation’s top law enforcement agency would have dramatically improved the prospects of Trump’s coup.
It would have lended an aura of legitimacy to election theft conspiracy theories. The Stop the Steal theories desperately needed a credibility infusion. Former Trump officials testified about the flimsiness of the claims that Trump dredged up from “the internet” for them to investigate, including the claim that Italian satellites had changed vote counts.
If Clark had affirmed in the name of the Justice Department that there were legitimate concerns about fraud, that would have provided political cover for any Republican legislator, state or federal, who wanted to challenge the results.
Furthermore, if Clark had taken over the Justice Department, he would have been in a position to start acting on MAGAland’s demands to arrest Trump’s political enemies on the eve of the coup.
At the last hearing, the J6 committee heard the testimony of Shaye Moss and her mother Ruby, Georgia election officials whom Rudy Giuliani falsely accused of committing election fraud. The two women endured a horrific MAGA harassment campaign. The message was clear: Confess and it will all go away.
Thankfully, Georgia officials didn’t charge the Mosses with any crime, but If Clark had become Attorney General, he could have sent the FBI to arrest Shaye and Ms. Ruby on trumped-up charges. MAGA was hungry for false confessions to bolster their fake fraud narratives and there’s little doubt that Clark would have been happy to supply them.
The DOJ lawyers threatened to resign en masse if Trump didn’t back down from his plan to install Clark as attorney general. They warned that if that happened, the story would be that Trump had burned through two attorneys general in two weeks in his quixotic quest to overturn the election. Ultimately, the former president relented.
The Battle of the Jeffs ended with Jeff Rosen still in charge.
The attorney general wields immense powers of coercion and persuasion. Trump had a plan to use both to overturn the election. It is truly frightening to contemplate what would have happened if Trump had handed the country’s vast federal law enforcement apparatus to a conspiracy theorist on the eve of the coup.
Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.