Whitehouse admits Trump may not be mastermind behind DOJ scheme to overturn election
Former President Donald Trump may not be the person who was "pulling the strings" behind a plan hinged on replacing the top Justice Department official with a loyalist willing to carry out a more aggressive strategy to challenge the results of the 2020 election, a Democratic Senate investigator admitted on Sunday.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appeared on NBC News's Meet the Press to discuss the interim report released last week by his panel on the DOJ pressure campaign.
Trump is said to have favored replacing Jeffrey Rosen , his acting attorney general, with Jeffrey Clark, another DOJ official who drew up a proposal to intervene in the Georgia certification process and raised doubts about the election results in other states. The former president opted not to dismiss Rosen after he was told during an early January meeting in the Oval Office that top Justice Department officials and White House counsel Pat Cipollone would resign if he went through with the plan, according to the 394-page report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, which was based on the testimony of former officials and documents.
Whitehouse told host Chuck Todd that investigators have "a very complete picture of the extent to which Trump was personally involved in this," and he noted Trump's overtures to Georgia officials about the election results is the focus of a separate investigation looking into whether the former president and his allies broke state laws.
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But the Rhode Island Democrat said the question of who actually masterminded the DOJ "scheme" remains unclear, and he pondered how it was funded.
"What we don't know is who was really behind this," Whitehouse said. "The text of the transcript and the body English of the witnesses suggests that they had very little regard for this character Jeffrey Clark, who was nominally going to be the new attorney general. They doubted his qualifications to even have that role."
"So, it's a possibility, I suppose, that he saw this moment and grabbed it, but it's an equally real possibility that he was a cog in a larger machine, and we've got a lot of work to do to figure out how that machine ran through this period, who was behind it, where the money came from, and what's been going on," he added.
Todd pressed this point, asking, "And you think it's somebody other than Donald Trump? I mean — you know, when I hear that, you're essentially saying you believe there's somebody else involved, somebody else was pulling the strings. Who could that be besides Donald Trump?"
Whitehouse said Senate investigators, who are cooperating with the House Jan. 6 Select Committee, don't yet have a clear view on that subject.
"We don't know yet, but, you know, this guy jumped to a dark money enterprise. So, he's been taken care of, Jeffrey Clark. There was a lot of activity around this with members of Congress. There's just a lot left to be learned," he added.
Clark, who was the head of the Justice Department's civil division during the Trump administration, has since been hired by the New Civil Liberties Alliance as the conservative civil rights group's chief of litigation and director of strategy.
He has refused to sit down for a voluntary interview, the Senate Judiciary Committee report said. Dick Durbin, chairman of the panel, has asked the D.C. Bar to open an investigation into Clark.
A GOP rebuttal report insists available evidence shows Trump followed the advice and recommendations of his senior advisers and did not use the Justice Department to overturn President Joe Biden's victory.