DOJ officials rejected colleague’s request to intervene in Georgia’s election certification: Emails

(WASHINGTON) — Top members of the Department of Justice last year rebuffed another DOJ official who asked them to urge officials in Georgia to investigate and perhaps overturn President Joe Biden’s victory in the state — long a bitter point of contention for former President Donald Trump and his team — before the results were certified by Congress, emails reviewed by ABC News show.

The emails, dated Dec. 28, 2020, show the former acting head of DOJ’s civil division, Jeffrey Clark, circulating a draft letter — which he wanted then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue to sign off on — urging Georgia’s governor and other top officials to convene the state legislature into a special session so lawmakers could investigate claims of voter fraud.

“The Department of Justice is investigating various irregularities in the 2020 election for President of the United States,” the draft letter said. “The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.”

The draft letter states: “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.”

The vote count in Georgia became a flashpoint for Trump and his allies and Trump at one point falsely claimed that it was “not possible” for him to have lost the state.

But to date, the Justice Department has uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud that would tip the results of the presidential election. Attorney General William Barr also announced in December that the department had “not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome of the election.” A statewide audit in Georgia last year also affirmed that Biden was the winner.

The emails were provided by the DOJ to the House Oversight Committee, which is investigating efforts to overturn the election results. And they come as the DOJ investigator general looks at whether any officials in the department sought to overturn the outcome of the election.

Last week the Department of Justice sent letters to six former Trump DOJ officials telling them that they can participate in Congress’ investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. One of those letters was to former Associate Deputy AG Patrick Hovakimian, who sources said sat for a transcribed interview Tuesday morning with the House Oversight Committee. Hovakimian is copied on the emails referenced above.

Notes from Donoghue released last week appeared to show that Trump tried to pressure the DOJ to assert that there was significant fraud in the election.

ABC News has requested comment from Clark but has not yet received a response. A spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee did not immediately respond to request for comment, nor did an attorney for Donoghue.

Clark attached the draft letter in an email to Rosen and Donoghue telling them “I think we should get it out as soon as possible.”

“Personally, I see no valid downsides to sending out the letter,” Clark wrote. “I put it together quickly and would want to do a formal cite check before sending but I don’t think we should let unnecessary moss grow on this.”

Clark separately asked for Rosen and Donoghue to authorize them to receive a classified briefing led by then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe the next day related to “foreign election interference issues,” while referencing an unspecified theory about hackers having evidence that a Dominion voting machine “accessed the Internet through a smart thermostat with a net connection trail leading back to China.”

Donoghue responded a little more than an hour later shooting down Clark’s request to sign on to the draft 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.”

Donoghue closed his email response by stating that, while he was available to speak to Clark directly about his request, “from where I stand, this is not even within the realm of possibility.”

Donoghue cited former Attorney General William Barr’s previous statements that the department had no indication fraud had impacted the election to a significant degree, and that no information had surfaced since Barr’s departure that changed that assessment.

“Given that,” he said, “I cannot imagine a scenario in which the Department would recommend that a State assemble its legislature to determine whether already-certified election results should somehow be overriden by legislative action.”

He added that the draft letter’s statement that DOJ would update lawmakers on the investigatory progress was “dubious as we do not typically update non-law enforcement personnel on the progress of any investigations.”

Later that evening, Rosen responded as well, telling both Clark and Donoghue, “I confirmed again today that I am not prepared to sign such a letter.”

The New York Times reported in January about Clark appealing to Donoghue and Rosen to co-sign the draft letter.

In the days after the exchange, as ABC News has previously confirmed, both Rosen and Donoghue thwarted an attempt by Clark to have Trump appoint him acting attorney general.

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