Democratic staff of the Senate Judiciary Committee released a 394-page interim report Thursday that details efforts by the Trump White House to pressure senior officials in the Department of Justice to help promote false claims that the 2020 election was rife with fraud in order to undo results in states where Donald Trump had lost, including Georgia and Pennsylvania.
The report, based on documents and direct testimony from key witnesses, including former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, and Byung Jin “BJay” Pak, former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, lays out a relentless, if unsuccessful, campaign between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 6 to wield the imprimatur of the Justice Department in service of Trump’s political goals.
A separate 140-page report from the Committee’s Republican staff said given Trump’s prior experiences with the DOJ and the FBI during the Russia investigation, it was “reasonable” that he maintained “substantial skepticism” about their ability to investigate election fraud allegations in “a thorough and unbiased manner.”
Laurence H. Tribe, the Carl M. Loeb University Professor and Professor of Constitutional Law, Emeritus, at Harvard Law School, is one of the nation’s pre-eminent constitutional scholars. He advised House managers during Trump’s first and second impeachment and has been highly critical of his administration. Tribe spoke to the Gazette about the report’s early findings and what effect it could have on the Department of Justice. Interview has been edited for clarity and length.
Laurence H. Tribe
GAZETTE: The report appears to show in great detail a concerted effort by a sitting president to use the Department of Justice to coerce state officials to help him overturn the 2020 election. What does this document tell us?
TRIBE: When added to information that has been leaking out in popular books like the one [“Peril”] by Bob Woodward and Robert Costa, in The New York Times and other reporting, it very much draws a picture of a president determined to hold onto office no matter what and to disregard the democratic process. Doing everything he can, including making threats to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and to his own people in the Department of Justice, threats that unless they do his bidding they will suffer career setbacks or perhaps other adverse consequences. And when this interim report is added to what we already know about the way he tried to weaponize attorney John Eastman to twist the arm of his own vice president to disregard Electoral College conclusions — when you add it all up, it seems to me it is very powerful evidence of several serious federal crimes.
GAZETTE: The report says there may be several violations. What do you see?
TRIBE: I would highlight three in particular. Coercion of political activity, 18 US Code, Section 610, makes it a crime for anyone to intimidate or coerce, or attempt to intimidate or coerce, any federal employee to engage in any political activity, including refusing to work or working on behalf of any candidate. In the activities at issue, Trump was simply a candidate; he was not the president of the United States with respect to these activities. Anyone who violates that section is eligible for a fine and/or up to three years in prison. That is one offense that this report screams quite loudly, pointing to the conclusion that he and a number of others were guilty of twisting arms in order to pressure people into engaging in political activity. The Hatch Act itself, which is about engaging in political activity while being a government official, does not apply to the president, but Section 610 definitely does.
The second major offense this report strongly indicates has been committed by various people, probably including the president, is seditious conspiracy, 18 US Code, Section 2384, which says that if two or more people conspire to overthrow the government, or to oppose its authority by force, or to seize or take the United States property by force, they’re guilty of seditious conspiracy, which can lead to imprisonment of up to 20 years. Now there are ambiguities — what kind of threat constitutes force? Certainly, the sacking of the Capitol involved force, but that is only the tail end of the conspiracy exposed here. The dots are not going to be very difficult to connect, assuming our Justice Department is interested in trying to connect them. That is a big assumption, given that we simply don’t know where the attorney general of the United States is going with any of the evidence that is emerging.
The third offense, which is less directly connected with this report, but is indirectly connected, is rebellion or insurrection. That’s 18 US Code Section 2383. That section provides that whoever incites, assists, or engages in any insurrection against the authority of the United States or its laws, or gives aid or comfort thereto — that’s really important — is to be fined and subject to imprisonment of up to 10 years and shall be incapable of holding any office in the United States. That would apply to any number of people in this report who were likely giving aid and comfort to the insurrection.