David A. Graham: Don’t let them pretend this didn’t happen
After the election, Trump pressed Attorney General Bill Barr to turn up evidence of fraud in the voting. The Justice Department did not manage to find such evidence, nor has anyone else provided any persuasive proof of widespread fraud. Barr soon resigned, amid public browbeating from Trump on the topic. The president then began badgering Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general, to intervene in lawsuits filed by his allies about election results and to appoint a special counsel. Rosen refused.
At some point, Representative Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, told Trump that Clark was amenable to his crusade to overturn the election. Clark’s belief in fraud tainting the election was based not on inside information or some expert’s reading of the law, but—he reportedly told colleagues—on spending a lot of time reading on the internet.
Under the quaint, pre-Trump practices of “norms” and “propriety,” Clark would not have spoken directly to the president without his bosses’ permission. But Trump and Clark apparently developed a plan in which the president would fire Rosen and install Clark in his place. Clark would then use the DOJ’s power to assist Trump’s efforts to stay in office, including by taking cases to the Supreme Court.
Adam Serwer: Trump has left Congress no choice
Rosen and other officials were apparently stunned by the subterfuge. The ploy came to a head in a White House meeting where Clark and Rosen, a former mentor in the private sector, made their respective cases to Trump. The president was persuaded not to fire Rosen after top Justice Department officials threatened to resign en masse if he did so.
This caper would have been the crowning scandal of almost any administration; in this one, it is almost an afterthought. Part of that is because its path to success is hard to understand, other than on the “underpants gnomes” theory of election law. Let’s say Trump had fired Rosen and installed Clark. Then what? Maybe Clark would have gone to the Supreme Court (assuming he didn’t hit other roadblocks at the DOJ). The justices would likely have laughed him out onto First Street Northeast.
Trump’s real aim seems to have been giving the appearance of a federal challenge to the vote, which would have given Georgia legislators a pretext to throw out the state’s election results. That seems unlikely to have worked, even with a DOJ letter; if legislators had acted, the matter would have ended up in court, and likely been overturned; and anyway, being awarded Georgia’s electoral votes wouldn’t have been enough to make Trump the winner.
Writing the Clark gambit off as both a doomed, pie-in-the-sky plan and a revelation that comes too late to make much difference misses the point, however, although both of those things are true. The episode has to be viewed in the context of Trump’s broader effort to steal the election. Other facets included Trump’s demand cum threat to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes”; his pressure campaigns on the governors of Georgia and Arizona to throw out state results; his parallel courting of legislators in other swing states to do the same; and his intense lobbying of Pence, both privately and publicly, to derail certification of the results on January 6.