WASHINGTON – The Justice Department’s watchdog announced on Monday that it has opened an investigation into whether any of the department’s officials attempted to overturn the presidential election results, as the scrutiny of the Former President Donald J. Trump and his associates continued ahead of his impeachment trial.
The investigation by departmental inspector general Michael E. Horowitz followed efforts by Mr. Trump and senior federal law enforcement official Jeffrey Clark to push other leaders in the Ministry of Justice to wrongly assert that continued fraud investigations cast doubt on the election results. As detailed by The New York Times in recent days, Mr. Trump is said to have considered installing Mr. Clark as acting attorney general to carry out the scheme.
“The Inspector General is opening an investigation into whether a former or current DOJ official made an improper attempt to have the DOJ seek to alter the outcome of the 2020 presidential election,” Horowitz said in a statement, adding that he was announcing the investigation to reassure the public that the matter was under review.
The probe adds to the increasingly scrutiny of Mr. Trump’s attempts to wield the Justice Department’s power to assert his false election claims in the final weeks of his presidency. It follows another investigation by the Inspector General into whether a federal prosecutor in Georgia was improperly pressured into assisting and a broader Senate probe led by Democrats into pressure on the ministry to assist the Mr. Trump’s cause.
Mr Trump has repeatedly sought to coerce the Justice Department to back up his baseless allegations of electoral irregularities, which ultimately prompted then Attorney General William P. Barr to state publicly at the start of the last month that the ministry had found no large-scale electoral fraud. it would affect the election results. Mr Barr fell out of favor with Mr Trump on the issue and left his post within weeks.
A spokesperson for the Department of Justice declined to comment.
The inquiry highlights fears among Senate Republicans, including Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the minority leader, that if they do not distance themselves from Mr. Trump and undo his grip on the party, a Regular drop of negative revelations coupled with his own erratic behavior could harm their political fortunes.
“If Trump loses his credibility because it appears he acted in a way that no one can justify, the influence he might have over the Republican Party could be diffused,” said William Marshall, professor at the University of North Carolina who teaches and writes. on presidential power. “The more that indicates that he behaved badly, the less easy it is to defend him and the less easy to support him.”
New York Democrat and Majority Leader Senator Chuck Schumer had urged Horowitz over the weekend to open an investigation, saying it was “unacceptable for a Trump Justice Department chief to conspire to reverse the will of the people ”.
The Inspector General also noted that his investigation would be limited to the Justice Ministry as other agencies fell outside his purview, a nod to the range of people who have sought in the last few weeks of his tenure. Mr. Trump to find a way to stop certification. of the victory of Joseph R. Biden Jr.
This month, Mr Horowitz opened an investigation into whether Trump administration officials pressured Byung J. Pak, then the US attorney in Atlanta, who abruptly resigned after he became clear to Mr. Trump that he would not take steps to cast doubt on it. or overturn the election results, according to a person briefed on the investigation.
Separately, the Senate Judiciary Committee said over the weekend that it had launched its own surveillance investigation into officials, including Mr Clark, who was the head of the Department of Justice’s environmental and natural resources division. and the acting head of his civilian division.
Sen. Richard J. Durbin of Illinois, the committee’s top Democrat, sent a letter to the Department of Justice saying he would investigate Mr. Trump and Mr. Clark’s efforts to use the agency. to advance Trump’s efforts to reverse the results of the 2020 presidential election. ”
Mr Durbin asked Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson to retain documents, emails and messages related to meetings between senior Justice Department officials under Mr Trump, the White House and Mr Trump, as well as all communications related to Mr. Pak. resignation.
Mr Biden’s victory was ruled valid after recounts in Wisconsin and Georgia declared him the winner and after the Trump campaign team was unable to prove widespread fraud in court cases in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Pennsylvania. Dozens of FBI investigations have found no election fraud on a scale that would have changed election results, according to Justice Department officials briefed on the cases.
Dozens of Republicans in Congress were among those who supported Mr. Trump’s false claims, including Rep. Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania. On Monday, he confirmed a Times report that he introduced Mr Trump and Mr Clark, giving the president access to the only senior Justice Department official willing to admit the idea Mr Biden did not win the election.
Mr. Perry, a member of the pro-Trump extremist Freedom Group, said in a statement to a Pennsylvania Public Radio affiliate that he spoke to Mr. Trump and Mr. Clark about the fraud allegations electoral.
“Over the past four years, I have worked with Assistant Attorney General Clark on various legislative matters,” said Mr. Perry. “When President Trump asked if I would do an introduction, I forced him.
Mr. Clark’s allies called the conversations simply outlining the legal options available to Mr. Trump. But Mr Clark’s former colleagues said there was no more legal action Mr Trump could have brought through the ministry.
Yet their assessment hasn’t stopped Mr. Trump from pressuring the Justice Department to fight harder to find a way to help him. When Mr Barr refused to appoint special councils to examine voting irregularities or take other action that would have helped cast doubt on the election results, he and Mr Trump agreed he should leave the department, according to three people close to their conversation. . Barr said then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen would replace him, the people said.
Mr Trump began pushing Mr Rosen to promote unsubstantiated suspicions of electoral fraud the day after Mr Barr’s departure was announced and kept the pressure on through the last weeks of December, prompting him to open investigations and to challenge Mr. Biden’s victory. before the Supreme Court.
But as senior department officials backed down, Mr. Trump separately opened a line of communication with Mr. Clark, who seemed more willing to accept his theory that he had won the election, according to five people familiar with the matter. asking to publicize inquiries that could cast doubt on the election.
Mr Trump’s deliberations over whether to replace Mr Rosen with Mr Clark also sparked a crisis among other senior Justice Department officials, who have pledged to resign if Mr Rosen is fired. . The vow would have helped persuade Mr. Trump not to act.
Mr Clark said this account was inaccurate without further clarifying and said all of his conduct was legal.
While the machinations between Mr Trump, Mr Clark and Mr Perry will not be at the center of Mr Trump’s impeachment trial – who accuses him of inciting a riot on Capitol Hill – Representative Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California suggested the case would be presented to senators.
“It’s powerful moving evidence,” Mr. Swalwell said.