Much worse than imagined: Trump’s final year in office

This post is about what we’ve learned of Trump’s final year in office, focusing on his post-election coup attempts, opposition to racial justice protests, and mishandling of the pandemic.


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Coup attempts

Newly-obtained notes revealed that Trump instructed the Department of Justice to assist in overturning the result of the 2020 presidential election. The notes, released by the House Oversight Committee (PDF), were taken by then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue during a December 27th phone call with the former president and former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.

Rosen: “understand that the DOJ can’t + won’t snap its fingers + change the outcome of the election, doesn’t work that way.”

Trump: “Don’t expect you to do that, just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.”

Trump then told Donoghue and Rosen that he wanted to install Jeffrey Clark as Attorney General, foreshadowing his attempt days later to oust Rosen.

Trump: “We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election.”

Trump: “People tell me Jeff Clark is great, I should put him in. People want me to replace DOJ leadership.”

Donoghue and Rosen pushed back on Trump’s unfounded claims of election fraud, according to the notes:

Donoghue/Rosen: “Sir we have done dozens of investig., hundreds of interviews, major allegations are not supported by evid. developed.”

Donoghue/Rosen: “Told him flat out that much of the info he is getting is false, +/or just not supported by the evidence – we look at allegations but they do not pan out.”

According to the Washington Post, Trump called Rosen “nearly every day” between the time William Barr stepped down in late December up until the Jan. 6 insurrection “to alert him to claims of voter fraud or alleged improper vote counts in the 2020 election.”

One day after the Donoghue, Rosen, and Trump phone call, Jeffrey Clark was circulating a draft letter to undermine Georgia’s presidential election results. Clark, the acting head of DOJ’s civil division, wanted Rosen and Donoghue to sign off on the letter urging Georgia to convene a special legislature session:

“The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States…we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia…”

While the Department of Justice believe[s] the Governor of Georgia should immediately call a special session to consider this important and urgent matter, if he declines to do so, we share with you our view that the Georgia General Assembly has implied authority under the Constitution of the United States to call itself into special session for [t]he limited purpose of considering issues pertaining to the appointment of Presidential Electors.”

Donoghue quickly shot down Clark’s claims and refused to sign off on the letter:

“There is no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this,” Donoghue said. “While it maybe true that the Department ‘is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President’ (something we typically would not state publicly) the investigations that I am aware of relate to suspicions of misconduct that are of such a small scale that they simply would not impact the outcome of the Presidential Election.”

The same day that Clark was circulating the draft letter, December 28, he sent an email to Rosen and Donoghue asking for a classified briefing from then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe. Why? Because Clark claimed to know of a secret Chinese operation to use thermometers to change votes from Trump to Biden in the election.

“I would like to have your authorization to get a classified briefing tomorrow from ODNI led by DNI Radcliffe on foreign election interference issues,” Clark began his email, “hackers have evidence (in the public domain) that a Dominion machine accessed the Internet through a smart thermostat with a net connection trail leading back to China. ODNI may have additional classified evidence.”

Rosen granted his request and Ratcliffe told Clark that no foreign government had flipped votes in the election.

During the briefing, Clark expressed skepticism not of Ratcliffe’s personal motives, but the analysis from the intelligence community that he was presenting, the source added. Clark believed some intelligence officials were withholding certain information from Ratcliffe because they were concerned about it being politicized by the Trump administration or certain policymakers, the source also said.

Rosen sat for a two-hour interview with the Justice Department inspector general on Friday and provided six hours of closed-door testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Saturday. According to the New York Times, Rosen told investigators that he confronted Clark about abandoning the chain of command to push voter fraud claims, including unauthorized contact with Trump, after which Clark pledged not to do so again.

Rosen also described subsequent exchanges with Mr. Clark, who continued to press colleagues to make statements about the election that they found to be untrue… He also discovered that Mr. Clark had been engaging in unauthorized conversations with Mr. Trump about ways to have the Justice Department publicly cast doubt on President Biden’s victory, particularly in battleground states that Mr. Trump was fixated on, like Georgia.

Some are treating Clark as a hero-like figure for voluntarily meeting with the IG and Congress before others, but it is important to keep in mind that he had a duty to come forward during the second impeachment trial of Donald Trump.

  • Related: “Jeffrey Rosen Separated The Investigation That Could Turn Rudy Into A Russian Agent From The Rudy Investigation,” Marcy Wheeler.

Another key figure in Trump’s election interference, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia B.J. Pak, testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday. Pak abruptly quit in early January without public statement. Wednesday, he told the Committee that he resigned after DOJ officials warned that Trump was about to fire him for refusing to embrace the former president’s unfounded voter fraud claims.

[Pak] told the Senate panel that the president had been dismayed that Mr. Pak had investigated allegations of voter fraud in Fulton County, Ga., and not found evidence to support them…Pak testified that top department officials had made clear that Mr. Trump intended to fire him over his refusal to say that the results in Georgia had been undermined by voter fraud…

Just like with Rosen, we are right to question why Pak did not come forward sooner. Both men have evidence that Trump violated 18 USC § 610, which makes it a crime to coerce a federal employee to engage in political activity, and 18 USC § 595, stating that it’s a crime to use official authority to interfere with the election of any candidate.


In February 2020, 712 people out of 3,711 onboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship became infected with Covid-19. Hundreds of American citizens were aboard the ship, quarantined in Okinawa, Japan. During the debate about what should be done with American citizens who contract Covid overseas, Trump repeatedly suggested sending them to Guantánamo in order to avoid adding to the total cases in the U.S. “That doubles my numbers overnight,” he complained to HHS Secretary Azar.

“We import so many things,” he told aides during one Situation Room meeting in February. “We import goods. We are not going to import a virus. No, why don’t we send it somewhere. Don’t we have an island that we own?”

The room was silent. Where was Trump going with this?

He continued, “What about Guantánamo?”

…Azar told Trump that they would look into several options and report back. But Trump wasn’t kidding, and he raised the idea again during a subsequent Oval Office meeting. His aides conferred and agreed again to scuttle the idea. They knew it was completely unacceptable. Eventually Trump stopped bringing it up.

Flashback: During an early March visit to CDC headquarters, Trump told the media: “[My experts] would like to have the people come off. I’d rather have the people stay, but I’d go with them. I told them to make the final decision.¹ I would rather—because I like the numbers being where they are. I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” (Video)

Source: “Nightmare Scenario”, by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta.

By March, the Covid cases in America were climbing and Trump was upset. Not about the number of people getting sick or dying, but about the testing regime implemented by his administration. “I’m going to lose the election because of testing! What idiot had the federal government do testing?” Trump yelled at Azar.

It was the CDC test that had incensed Trump. Why was the CDC creating tests in the first place? The CDC should have never taken on testing. That had put the whole issue into the federal government’s lap, and the federal government was Trump…The CDC should never have been involved, Trump said. States and private businesses should be responsible…

“This was gross incompetence to let CDC develop a test,” Trump seethed. Azar had been yelled at by Trump plenty, but this was a new level of anger. Trump asked Azar who oversaw the CDC. Azar said he did. So Trump held Azar responsible for the testing mess.

Flashback: At a rally in June 2020, Trump bragged to the crowd that he told his administration to “slow the testing down” in order to artificially deflate the number of cases in the U.S. (Video)

Source: “Nightmare Scenario”, by Yasmeen Abutaleb and Damian Paletta.

Racial Justice

On Monday, May 25, 2020, Minneapolis police killed George Floyd during an arrest. The country exploded in anger over police brutality and racism, igniting protests across the nation. Within days, Trump gathered Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, and other advisers to plan a response to the protests.

White nationalist and Senior Adviser to the President Stephen Miller advocated for military intervention:

[Miller] egged on Trump to use armed troops. “Mr. President, you have to show strength,” Miller said. “They’re burning the country down.”

“Stephen, shut the fuck up,” Milley responded. “They’re not burning the fucking country down.”

Esper told Maryland Governor Larry Hogan of Trump’s desire to use the military to crack down on protestors.

“Here’s the situation,” Esper said. “The president wants me to use active-duty military troops and that’s the last thing I want to do. The citizen-soldiers in the National Guard, that’s what they’re for, but D.C. doesn’t have enough.”

Hogan refused to send his state’s National Guard to deal with protesters, but agreed to send 100 troops to protect the Lincoln Memorial.

Despite Milley’s resistance, Trump and Miller weren’t deterred.

“Mr. President, that guy had an insurrection,” Milley said [pointing to a painting of Abraham Lincoln]. “You don’t have an insurrection. When guys show up in gray and start bombing Fort Sumter, you’ll have an insurrection. I’ll let you know about it. You don’t have an insurrection right now.”

…Trump believed troops in battle dress were the only way to show he meant business, to be the “law and order” president he styled himself as. Again and again, he would argue that cities were falling prey to violent extremists and he was needed to stop the chaos and prevent destruction. Each time, Milley could counter with the number of officers already on the ground prepared to enforce the peace.

Source: “I Alone Can Fix It,” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.

When protests reached the White House days later, Trump’s security detail rushed the president, Melania, and Barron to an emergency shelter under the East Wing. The story reached the New York Times and quickly led to mass ridicule of the image of Trump hiding in a bunker. Trump, thinking it made him “appear scared and weak,” demanded his staff find the leaker:

He told Mark Meadows, “Mark, you have to catch whoever leaked that. They should be in prison. They should be tried for treason. This is treasonous!”

“I’m on it,” Meadows said. “I’m on it.”

The bunker story would become an obsession of the new chief of staff’s—and he would spend hours pursuing possible leads on the identity of the leaker, though the release of this White House gossip didn’t constitute a crime and Meadows’s fixation got in the way of his job managing the entire executive branch.

  • A separate report, by Michael Bender, added that Trump didn’t just call the leaker “treasonous,” he also called for their execution.

Source: “I Alone Can Fix It,” by Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker.