Donald Trump was at his Florida resort on Saturday, beginning post-presidency life while Joe Biden settled into the White House. But in Washington and beyond, the chaos of the 45th president’s final days in office continued to throw out damaging aftershocks.
In yet another earth-shaking report, the New York Times said Trump plotted with an official at the Department of Justice to fire the acting attorney general, then force Georgia Republicans to overturn his defeat in that state.
Former acting US defense secretary Christopher Miller, meanwhile, made an extraordinary admission, telling Vanity Fair that when he took the job in November, he had three goals: “No military coup, no major war and no troops in the street.”
The former special forces officer added: “The ‘no troops in the street’ thing changed dramatically about 14.30 [on 6 January]. So that one’s off [the list].”
That was the day a mob incited by Trump smashed its way into the US Capitol, in some cases allegedly looking for lawmakers to kidnap or kill. More than 100 arrests have been made over the riot, which also saw Trump impeached a second time.
A deal between Democratic and Republicans in the Senate, announced on Friday night, means Trump’s second trial will begin in the week of 8 February. If convicted, a prospect unlikely given his grip on his party but not impossible given statements by Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Trump will most likely be barred from running for office again.
The president’s persistent and possibly illegal efforts to overturn his loss to Biden in Georgia had been widely reported. Had he been successful, he would not have gained enough electoral votes to overturn his overall defeat.
On the day Trump’s supporters broke into the Capitol, leaving five people dead, 147 Republicans in the House and Senate lodged objections to electoral college results. That attempt to overturn the election also failed.
The law enforcement and Pentagon response to the Capitol riot has been questioned, regarding the ease with which security was breached and the time it took the national guard to get to the scene. One police officer died after confronting the rioters. Another gained national fame after leading attackers away from lawmakers.
“We had meetings upon meetings,” Miller told Vanity Fair. “We were monitoring it. And we’re just like, ‘Please, God, please, God.’ Then the damn TV pops up and everybody converges on my office: [Joint Chiefs of Staff] chairman [Gen Mark Milley], Secretary of the Army [Ryan] McCarthy, the crew just converges.
“We had already decided we’re going to need to activate the national guard, and that’s where the fog and friction comes in.”
Kash Patel, a Trump loyalist installed as Miller’s chief of staff – and accused of obstructing the Biden transition – said: “The DC mayor finally said, ‘OK, I need more.’ Then the Capitol police … a federal agency and the Secret Service made the request … and we did it. And then we just went to work.”
Miller called accusations the Pentagon was slow to respond “complete horseshit” and said: “I gotta tell you, I cannot wait to go to the Hill and have those conversations with senators and representatives … I know when something doesn’t smell right, and I know when we’re covering our asses. Been there. I know for an absolute fact that historians are going to look … at the actions that we did on that day and go, ‘Those people had their game together.’”
By the time of the inauguration, two weeks later, 25,000 guard members were in the capital, an unprecedented display which put central Washington on lockdown. Troops also guarded state capitols against pro-Trump protests and plots that did not transpire.
As the Capitol riot failed to overturn the election, so, according to the Times, Trump’s alleged plot against acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen did not work out either.
The report detailed “stunned silence” among DoJ leaders as they were told of moves by Trump and “unassuming lawyer” Jeffrey Clark to “cast doubt on the election results and bolster … legal battles and the pressure on Georgia politicians”.
Rosen became acting attorney general after the resignation of William Barr, who was widely seen as a Trump crony but who crossed the president by saying there was no evidence of the election fraud he baselessly alleged, claims which were repeatedly thrown out of court.
Georgia Republicans including Governor Brian Kemp and secretary of state Brad Raffensperger – the recipient of a wheedling and bullying call from Trump – also refused to accede to the president’s demands.
In November 2018, Clark became assistant attorney general of the DoJ’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. In September 2020, he became acting assistant attorney general of the civil division. On 14 January, six days before the Biden inauguration, he resigned.
In an interview with Clark published on 19 January, Bloomberg Law said he had “a reputation for pushing aggressive conservative legal principles and taking a hands-on approach that drew kudos from some colleagues but often frustrated career lawyers on his team”.
The website of the rightwing Federalist Society lists Clark as a contributor.
Carl Tobias, a professor of law at the University of Richmond in Virginia, told the Guardian: “The allegations would have been outlandish in a normal administration, but for Trump it was par for the course.”
Of Clark’s future prospects, Tobias added: “Outlets have reported that he does not yet have post-government employment, a situation that last night’s revelations may exacerbate.”
According to the Times, DoJ leaders decided that if Rosen was fired and replaced by Clark, they would resign en masse.
“For some,” the paper reported, “the plan brought to mind the so-called Saturday Night Massacre of the Nixon era, where Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy resigned rather than carry out the president’s order to fire the special prosecutor investigating him.”
Nixon resigned before he could be impeached over the Watergate scandal. After the Capitol attack, Trump refused to resign. Vice-President Mike Pence refused to invoke the 25th amendment, which provides for the removal of a president deemed unfit for office.
Out of office, Trump is vulnerable to investigations at federal and state levels. On Friday, a Washington Examiner reporter found him “at his regular table in the grill room of the Trump international golf club” in West Palm Beach.
“We’ll do something, but not just yet,” the ex-president reportedly said, his first comment since leaving the White House, before an aide “swooped in and swiftly, but politely, ended the interaction”.
Ezra Cohen, another Trump appointee at the Pentagon, told Vanity Fair: “The president threw us under the bus. And when I say ‘us,’ I don’t mean only us political appointees or only us Republicans. He threw America under the bus. He caused a lot of damage to the fabric of this country.”