U.S. attorney in Georgia quit under pressure from Trump to reject election results, new report confirms
By Jacob Fischler
Former President Donald Trump forced a top federal prosecutor in Atlanta to step down because he wouldn’t help Trump overturn his loss of Georgia in the 2020 presidential election, a U.S. Senate report released Thursday said.
The report, written by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, found that the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Byung Jin “BJay” Pak, resigned under pressure from the Trump White House in early January.
Pak would not substantiate unfounded claims that the election results in Georgia were fraudulent, the report said.
Trump’s attorney general, William Barr, asked Pak to make an investigation of supposedly illegal ballots carried around in suitcases “a top priority,” Pak told committee investigators in an interview made public for the first time Thursday.
Thursday’s report was only an interim account, released as committee investigators continue to gather evidence in their investigation into Trump’s efforts shortly after the November election to undermine President Joe Biden’s victory.
Though the findings aren’t final, the report adds details about Pak’s ouster and confirms it was related to his resistance to pursuing Trump’s demands to find nonexistent election fraud.
Pak’s resignation letter, submitted Jan. 4, made no mention of his reason for leaving the post he’d held since October 2017, though the move raised questions at the time because it broke with the Justice Department’s succession protocol.
Bobby Christine, then the U.S. attorney for the neighboring Southern District of Georgia, replaced Pak on an acting basis. Under normal procedure, Pak’s top deputy, Kurt Erskine, would have become the acting U.S. attorney.
In a Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting, Trump complained to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who by then had replaced Barr, and acting Deputy Attorney General Richard O’Donoghue that Pak was a “never-Trumper,” according to the report.
Trump said he’d prefer Christine to take over the Northern District office, which includes Atlanta, because “he’ll do something about [election fraud].”
Trump was displeased that Pak, a former Republican state legislator whom Trump had appointed to the U.S. attorney post, wouldn’t back unfounded claims of election fraud related to ballots inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney and adviser to Trump, traveled to Georgia in early December to promote the theory that a video showed poll workers at the arena delivering suitcases full of illegal ballots.
Barr, before he stepped down as attorney general Dec. 14, asked Pak to make an investigation of Giuliani’s claim “a top priority,” Pak told committee investigators.
U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff, (D-Ga.), and Richard J. Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Judiciary Committee staff members were present for Pak’s interview.
Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office quickly debunked that Giuliani claim, finding instead that the supposed suitcases were secure ballot boxes holding legitimate ballots.
Pak personally reviewed video and audio from the arena and confirmed the secretary of state’s findings were valid, he said.
“I was comfortable that the main allegation that Mr. Giuliani made with respect to the secure ballot box being a suitcase full of fake ballots, that was not true,” Pak told committee investigators. “That was debunked. I was satisfied of the explanation.”
But Trump and some allies continued to push that theory and other strategies to overturn Biden’s victory in Georgia.
On Jan. 2, Trump called Raffensperger and asked him, during an hour-long call, to “find” enough ballots to change the election result.
The next day, Trump met with Rosen and Donoghue and said he wanted to fire Pak, whom he called a “never-Trumper” who wouldn’t zealously pursue fraud claims.
Donoghue resisted. But when Trump overruled him, Donoghue told him Pak planned to step down the next day anyway, though Pak had actually told colleagues he planned to stay in office until Inauguration Day.
“That’s fine,” Trump responded, according to Donoghue’s testimony. “I’m not going to fire him, then. But when his resignation comes in, it’s accepted. Tomorrow is his last day as U.S. attorney.”
Trump then suggested Christine take over the Northern District. Donoghue responded that Erskine was next in the line of succession, but Trump insisted on Christine.
Pak did submit a “very bland” letter of resignation on Jan. 4 in order to avoid disrupting a special U.S. Senate election the next day, he told investigators.
The committee report concludes that the Trump White House made inappropriate demands of the Justice Department to investigate claims of election fraud, especially in Georgia.
Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman who was Trump’s White House chief of staff, asked Rosen to “investigate various discredited claims of election fraud in Georgia,” the report said.
After the Democrats’ report was issued Thursday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa’s senior senator and the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel, pushed back against it and said it vindicated Trump rather than implicating him.
The report focuses on Trump receiving advice from Jeffrey Clark, then the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, outside counsel John Eastman and others to take drastic actions to subvert the election results.
Those steps included firing the top DOJ leadership and installing Clark, sending letters to states asking them to contest the results, and suing states with voter issues.
But Trump rejected the most extreme options, Grassley said.
“The Democrats’ report makes much of efforts by individual lawyers to push the department to take these steps,” Grassley said. “But the fact is, none of these steps were taken because President Trump made the ultimate decision not to.”
Representatives for Ossoff did not return a message seeking comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for fellow Georgia Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock also did not return a request for comment.
Both were elected in the special election on Jan. 5, the day after Pak resigned.
Jacob Fischler helps cover Washington for the States Newsroom network.
U.S. House panel questions Arizona’s presidential election ‘audit’
By Laura Olson
WASHINGTON — It didn’t take long for Thursday’s congressional hearing about a controversial ballot review in Arizona to demonstrate the persistent misinformation about the validity of last year’s presidential election.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat, asked his colleague, Arizona Republican Andy Biggs, if he accepts the findings of the GOP-led review of ballots in Maricopa County. That so-called audit did not dispute the state’s certified result that President Joe Biden won Arizona’s electoral votes.
“Who won the election in Arizona? Donald Trump or Joe Biden?” Raskin asked Biggs.
“We don’t know,” Biggs incorrectly claimed, adding: “There are a lot of issues with this election that took place.”
Raskin expressed exasperation as he resumed his opening statement to the rest of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
“There’s the problem that we have,” Raskin said. “Donald Trump refused to accept the results. And unfortunately, we have one of the world’s great political parties, which has followed him off of the ledge of this electoral lunacy, and it’s dangerous for democracy.”
The nearly four-hour U.S. House hearing was the first public effort by Congress to question several key Arizona officials and other election experts about the questionable procedures involved in the months-long, GOP-led ballot review and the ramifications for public faith in the election process.
Absent from that interrogation was Doug Logan, CEO of Cyber Ninjas, the Florida-based firm that was hired to conduct the ballot review.
Logan told the committee this week that he was refusing to testify, a decision that comes after his company also has repeatedly refused to cooperate with document requests from lawmakers in D.C. and in Arizona.
During Thursday’s hearing, the witness table included a name tag and empty seat reserved for Logan, and Democrats berated him for declining to participate. Committee leaders have not yet said whether they will subpoena Logan to compel his testimony, which is within their power.
“Mr. Logan’s refusal to answer questions under oath is just one more sign that the dark-money-fueled audit that he led should never have happened in the first place,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, (D-N.Y.), who chairs the Oversight panel.
County supervisors testify
Instead of hearing from Logan, legislators questioned two Republicans on the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors who opposed the “audit,” Chairman Jack Sellers and Vice Chairman Bill Gates.
Sellers and Gates defended the county’s lengthy planning efforts to ensure last year’s elections were safe and secure. They described the 2020 general election as the most-scrutinized election in the county’s history — followed by a drive by fellow Republicans to discredit those results, the county’s auditing process, and the level of cooperation by Maricopa officials.
Gates described how county officials went to court to get direction on whether they could in fact turn the ballots over to a third-party group like Cyber Ninjas — and even after they sought an expedited ruling, the state Senate was one vote away from holding them in contempt.
“That was wrong,” Gates said. “It was also wrong once they had the ballots, in my opinion, to conduct an audit with auditors who had no elections experience, and then also auditors who clearly had a preconceived notion.”
“I don’t have a problem with audits,” he added. “I had concerns with this particular audit.”
Also testifying was Ken Bennett, a former Arizona secretary of state who served as a liaison between the Arizona state Senate and the companies hired for the ballot review.
Bennett asserted that the aim of the “audit” was simply to verify that official election procedures were followed, and noted that the most “significant” finding was that the hand count very closely matched the official results in the presidential race.
Bennett also criticized what he described as a lack of cooperation by county officials in the ballot review.
“Not many people like to have their work checked, but audits are much better with the cooperation of the auditee,” he said.
Several Republicans on the panel expanded on that line of attack.
Rep. Paul Gosar, (R-Ariz.), raised questions about county officials blocking access to routers. Gates responded that there were cybersecurity concerns with allowing access to those devices, and costs associated with having to eventually put the county’s network back together.
An agreement was eventually reached that will allow the county to keep its routers out of the hands of Cyber Ninjas, as the Arizona Mirror has reported. Instead, it will involve the appointment of a special master to answer any questions related to the routers and their data.
Other Republicans on the panel used their time to repeat misinformation about the 2020 election results.
Rep. Clay Higgins, (R-La.), said he believes the 2020 election “was indeed compromised,” and that a full investigation would “take time.”
“Yet as of January 20, 2021, Joe Biden was the inaugurated president,” Higgins said. “Listen good: On January 20, 2025, we’re gonna fix that. And Democrats will have an opportunity to deal with the re-elected and newly inaugurated President Donald J. Trump again, and I have no doubt that my Democratic colleagues across the aisle will object.”
Election experts have expressed alarm that the ongoing unsubstantiated claims of voting impropriety have undermined confidence in elections across the country.
Rep. Rashida Tlaib, (D-Mich.) asked Gates if he believes the audit was about restoring faith in elections, as supporters have claimed.
For some involved, they may have been focused on ensuring any lingering questions about the election were answered, Gates said.
“But unfortunately, I do believe that a lot of people who led this, that was not their major focus,” Gates said. “Instead, I think it was more on raising doubts, and I think we’re seeing that again today, quite frankly.”