Trump Found Crucial Support in Congress as He Fought to Stay in Power

5 months ago 124

WASHINGTON — Two days aft Christmas past year, Richard P. Donoghue, a apical Justice Department authoritative successful the waning days of the Trump administration, saw an chartless fig look connected his phone.

Mr. Donoghue had spent weeks fielding calls, emails and in-person requests from President Donald J. Trump and his allies, each of whom asked the Justice Department to declare, falsely, that the predetermination was corrupt. The lame-duck president had surrounded himself with a unit of unscrupulous lawyers, conspiracy theorists, adjacent the chief enforcement of MyPillow — and they were stoking his predetermination lies.

Mr. Trump had been handing retired Mr. Donoghue’s cellphone fig truthful that radical could walk connected rumors of predetermination fraud. Who could beryllium calling him now?

It turned retired to beryllium a subordinate of Congress: Representative Scott Perry, Republican of Pennsylvania, who began pressing the president’s case. Mr. Perry said helium had compiled a dossier of elector fraud allegations that the section needed to vet. Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who had recovered favour with Mr. Trump, could “do something” astir the president’s claims, Mr. Perry said, adjacent if others successful the section would not.

The connection was delivered by an obscure lawmaker who was doing Mr. Trump’s bidding. Justice Department officials viewed it arsenic outrageous governmental unit from a White House that had go consumed by conspiracy theories.

It was besides 1 illustration of however a half-dozen right-wing members of Congress became cardinal ft soldiers successful Mr. Trump’s effort to overturn the election, according to dozens of interviews and a reappraisal of hundreds of pages of legislature grounds astir the onslaught connected the Capitol connected Jan. 6.

Image

Representatives Jim Jordan of Ohio, left, and Scott Perry of Pennsylvania astatine  a rally successful  Harrisburg, Pa., 2  days aft  the 2020 election.
Credit...Gabriela Bhaskar for The New York Times

The lawmakers — each of them members of the ultraconservative House Freedom Caucus — worked intimately with the White House main of staff, Mark Meadows, whose cardinal relation successful Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn a antiauthoritarian election is coming into absorption arsenic the legislature probe into Jan. 6 gains traction.

The men were not unsocial successful their efforts — astir Republican lawmakers fell successful enactment down Mr. Trump’s mendacious claims of fraud, astatine slightest rhetorically — but this ellipse moved good beyond words and into action. They bombarded the Justice Department with dubious claims of voting irregularities. They pressured members of authorities legislatures to behaviour audits that would formed uncertainty connected the predetermination results. They plotted to disrupt the certification connected Jan. 6 of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory.

There was Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the pugnacious erstwhile wrestler who bolstered his nationalist illustration by defending Mr. Trump connected cablegram television; Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, whose governmental ascent was padded by a $10 cardinal sweepstakes win; and Representative Paul Gosar, an Arizona dentist who trafficked successful conspiracy theories, spoke astatine a achromatic nationalist rally and posted an animated video that depicted him sidesplitting Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Democrat of New York.

Image

Credit...T.J. Kirkpatrick for The New York Times

They were joined by Representative Louie Gohmert of Texas, who was known for fiery speeches delivered to an bare House enclosure and unsuccessfully sued Vice President Mike Pence implicit his refusal to interfere successful the predetermination certification; and Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, a lawyer who rode the Tea Party question to Congress and was aboriginal sued by a Democratic congressman for inciting the Jan. 6 riot.

Mr. Perry, a erstwhile Army chopper aviator who is adjacent to Mr. Jordan and Mr. Meadows, acted arsenic a de facto sergeant. He coordinated galore of the efforts to support Mr. Trump successful office, including a program to regenerate the acting lawyer wide with a much compliant official. His colleagues telephone him General Perry.

Mr. Meadows, a erstwhile congressman from North Carolina who co-founded the Freedom Caucus successful 2015, knew the six lawmakers well. His relation arsenic Mr. Trump’s right-hand antheral helped to remarkably empower the radical successful the president’s final, chaotic weeks successful office.

In his book, “The Chief’s Chief,” Mr. Meadows insisted that helium and Mr. Trump were simply trying to unfurl superior claims of predetermination fraud. “All helium wanted was clip to get to the bottommost of what truly happened and get a just count,” Mr. Meadows wrote.

Congressional Republicans person fought the Jan. 6 committee’s probe astatine each turn, but it is progressively wide that Mr. Trump relied connected the lawmakers to assistance his attempts to clasp power. When Justice Department officials said they could not find grounds of wide fraud, Mr. Trump was unconcerned: “Just accidental that the predetermination was corrupt + permission the remainder to maine and the R. Congressmen,” helium said, according to Mr. Donoghue’s notes of the call.

Image

Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

On Nov. 9, 2 days aft The Associated Press called the contention for Mr. Biden, situation meetings were underway astatine Trump run office successful Arlington, Va.

Mr. Perry and Mr. Jordan huddled with elder White House officials, including Mr. Meadows; Stephen Miller, a apical Trump adviser; Bill Stepien, the run manager; and Kayleigh McEnany, the White House property secretary.

According to 2 radical acquainted with the meetings, which person not been antecedently reported, the radical settled connected a strategy that would go a blueprint for Mr. Trump’s supporters successful Congress: Hammer location the thought that the predetermination was tainted, denote ineligible actions being taken by the campaign, and bolster the lawsuit with allegations of fraud.

At a quality league aboriginal that day, Ms. McEnany delivered the message.

“This predetermination is not over,” she said. “Far from it.”

On cablegram tv and vigor shows and astatine rallies, the lawmakers utilized unproved fraud claims to beforehand the thought that the predetermination had been stolen. Mr. Brooks said helium would ne'er ballot to certify Mr. Trump’s loss. Mr. Jordan told Fox News that ballots were counted successful Pennsylvania aft the election, contrary to authorities law. Mr. Gohmert claimed successful Philadelphia that determination was “rampant” elector fraud and aboriginal said connected YouTube that the U.S. subject had seized machine servers successful Germany utilized to flip American votes.

Mr. Gosar pressed Doug Ducey, the Republican politician of Arizona, to analyse voting instrumentality made by Dominion Voting Systems, a institution astatine the bosom of respective false conspiracy theories that Mr. Trump and his allies spread.

Image

Credit...Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times

Mr. Gosar embraced the fraud claims truthful intimately that his main of staff, Tom Van Flein, rushed to an airplane hangar parking batch successful Phoenix aft a conspiracy mentation began circulating that a suspicious pitchy carrying ballots from South Korea was astir to land, possibly successful a bid to bargain the predetermination from Mr. Trump, according to tribunal documents filed by 1 of the participants. The assertion turned retired to beryllium baseless.

Mr. Van Flein did not respond to elaborate questions astir the episode.

Even arsenic the fraud claims grew progressively outlandish, Attorney General William P. Barr authorized national prosecutors to look into “substantial allegations” of voting irregularities. Critics wrong and extracurricular the Justice Department slammed the move, saying it went against years of the department’s norms and chipped distant astatine its credibility. But Mr. Barr privately told advisers that ignoring the allegations — nary substance however implausible — would undermine religion successful the election, according to Mr. Donoghue’s testimony.

And successful immoderate event, medication officials and lawmakers believed the claims would person small effect connected the peaceful transportation of powerfulness to Mr. Biden from Mr. Trump, according to aggregate erstwhile officials.

Mainstream Republicans similar Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the bulk leader, said connected Nov. 9 that Mr. Trump had a close to analyse allegations of irregularities, “A fewer ineligible inquiries from the president bash not precisely spell the extremity of the Republic,” Mr. McConnell said.

Image

Credit...Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

The lawyer general’s declaration seemed lone to energize the six lawmakers. Mr. Gohmert suggested that the F.B.I. successful Washington could not beryllium trusted to analyse predetermination fraud. Mr. Biggs said that Mr. Trump’s allies needed “the imprimatur, rather frankly of the D.O.J.,” to triumph their lawsuits claiming fraud.

They turned their attraction to Jan. 6, erstwhile Mr. Pence was to officially certify Mr. Biden’s victory. Mr. Jordan, asked if the president should concede, replied, “No way.”

The lawmakers started drumming up enactment to derail the transportation of power.

Mr. Gohmert sued Mr. Pence successful an effort to unit him to nullify the results of the election. Mr. Perry circulated a letter written by Pennsylvania authorities legislators to Mr. McConnell and Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the House Republican leader, asking Congress to hold certification. “I’m obliged to concur,” Mr. Perry wrote.

Mr. Meadows remained the cardinal leader. When disputes broke retired among organizers of the pro-Trump “Stop the Steal” rallies, helium stepped successful to mediate, according to 2 organizers, Dustin Stockton and Jennifer Lynn Lawrence.

In 1 case, Mr. Meadows helped settee a feud astir whether to person 1 oregon 2 rallies connected Jan. 6. The organizers decided that Mr. Trump would marque what amounted to an opening connection astir predetermination fraud during his speech astatine the Ellipse, past the lawmakers would emergence successful succession during the legislature proceeding and contiguous grounds they had gathered of purported fraud.

(That program was yet derailed by the onslaught connected Congress, Mr. Stockton said.)

Image

Credit...Pete Marovich for The New York Times

“This sedition volition beryllium stopped,” Mr. Gosar wrote connected Twitter.

Asked astir the meeting, Mr. Gosar’s main of unit said the congressman and his colleagues “have and had each close to be rallies and speeches.”

“None of the members could person anticipated what occurred (on Jan. 6),” Mr. Van Flein added.

Mr. Perry was uncovering ways to exert unit connected the Justice Department. He introduced Mr. Trump to Mr. Clark, the acting caput of the department’s civilian part who became 1 of the Stop the Steal movement’s astir ardent supporters.

Then, aft Christmas, Mr. Perry called Mr. Donoghue to stock his elector fraud dossier, which focused connected unfounded predetermination fraud claims successful Pennsylvania.

“I had ne'er heard of him earlier that day,” Mr. Donoghue would aboriginal attest to Senate investigators. He assumed that Mr. Trump had fixed Mr. Perry his idiosyncratic cellphone number, arsenic the president had done with others who were anxious to unit Justice Department officials to enactment the mendacious thought of a rigged election.

Key Aspects of the Jan. 6 Inquiry


Card 1 of 8

Mr. Donoghue passed the dossier connected to Scott Brady, the U.S. lawyer for the Western District of Pennsylvania, with a enactment saying “for immoderate it whitethorn beryllium worth.”

Mr. Brady determined the allegations “were not good founded,” similar truthful overmuch of the flimsy grounds that the Trump run had dug up.

Image

Credit...Jason Andrew for The New York Times

On Jan. 6, Washington was overcast and breezy arsenic thousands of radical gathered astatine the Ellipse to perceive Mr. Trump and his allies dispersed a prevarication that has go a rallying outcry successful the months since: that the predetermination was stolen from them successful plain view.

Mr. Brooks, wearing assemblage armor, took the signifier successful the morning, saying helium was speaking astatine the behest of the White House. The assemblage began to swell.

“Today is the time American patriots commencement taking down names and kicking ass,” Mr. Brooks said. “Are you consenting to bash what it takes to combat for America?”

Just earlier noon, Mr. Pence released a missive that said helium would not artifact certification. The powerfulness to take the president, helium said, belonged “to the American people, and to them alone.”

Mr. Trump approached the dais soon aft and said the vice president did not person “the courageousness to bash what should person been done to support our state and our Constitution.”

“We volition ne'er springiness up,” Mr. Trump said. “We volition ne'er concede.”

Roaring their approval, galore successful the assemblage began the walk down Pennsylvania Avenue toward the Capitol, wherever the certification proceeding was underway. Amped up by the speakers astatine the rally, the assemblage taunted the officers who guarded the Capitol and pushed toward the building’s staircases and introduction points, yet breaching information on the perimeter conscionable aft 1 p.m.

By this point, the six lawmakers were wrong the Capitol, acceptable to protestation the certification. Mr. Gosar was speaking astatine 2:16 p.m. erstwhile information forces entered the enclosure due to the fact that rioters were successful the building.

As the melee erupted, Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, yelled to his colleagues who were readying to situation the election: “This is what you’ve gotten, guys.”

When Mr. Jordan tried to assistance Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming, determination to safety, she smacked his manus away, she aboriginal recounted to her aides.

“Get distant from me,” she told him. “You fucking did this.”

A spokesperson for Mr. Jordan disputed parts of the account, saying that Ms. Cheney did not curse astatine the congressman oregon slap him.

Of the six lawmakers, lone Mr. Gosar and Mr. Jordan responded to requests for remark for this article, done their spokespeople.

Image

Credit...Erin Schaff/The New York Times

Mr. Perry was precocious elected person of the Freedom Caucus, elevating him to an influential enactment station arsenic Republicans could regain power of the House successful 2022. The stolen predetermination assertion is present a litmus trial for the party, with Mr. Trump and his allies moving to oust those who garbage to backmost it.

All six lawmakers are poised to beryllium cardinal supporters should Mr. Trump support his governmental clout earlier the midterm and wide elections. Mr. Brooks is moving for Senate successful Alabama, and Mr. Gohmert is moving for Texas lawyer general.

Some, similar Mr. Jordan, are successful enactment to go committee chairs if Republicans instrumentality backmost the House. After Jan. 6, Mr. Jordan has claimed that helium ne'er said the predetermination was stolen.

In galore ways, they person tried to rewrite history. Several of the men person argued that the Jan. 6 onslaught was akin to a tourer sojourn to the Capitol. Mr. Gosar formed the attackers arsenic “peaceful patriots crossed the country” who were harassed by national prosecutors. A Pew probe poll recovered that astir two-thirds of Republicans said their enactment should not judge elected officials who knock Mr. Trump.

Still, the House prime committee investigating the Capitol onslaught appears to beryllium picking up steam, voting this week to recommend that Mr. Meadows beryllium charged with transgression contempt of Congress aft helium shifted from partly participating successful the inquiry to waging a full-blown ineligible fight against the committee.

His combat is successful enactment with Mr. Trump’s directive to stonewall the inquiry.

But the committee has signaled that it volition analyse the relation of members of Congress.

According to 1 salient witnesser who was interviewed by the committee, investigators are funny successful the narration betwixt Freedom Caucus members and governmental activists who organized “Stop the Steal” rallies earlier and aft the election.

Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the president of the committee, said the sheet would travel the facts wherever they led, including to members of Congress.

“Nobody,” helium said, “is off-limits.”

Read Entire Article