It is a tense time. Accusations are flying. The country has learned that a Republican U.S. Attorney was pushed out of office months ago, ostensibly for not pursuing baseless election fraud cases, which Republican leaders were desperately pressing for. The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is investigating, taking testimony from the removed prosecutor, who asserts he was purged for not doing the political bidding of the party in power.
Sound familiar? Well, I am not talking about the closed-door testimony given yesterday by forced-out Atlanta U.S. Attorney B.J. Pak. He abruptly resigned on January 4, 2021, because Trump wanted him gone for not bringing meritless cases to undermine the 2020 election in Georgia. I’m not referring to that, though I could be. Rather, I’m talking about former New Mexico U.S. Attorney David Iglesias, who was fired under similar sinister circumstances in December 2006. I was the lead staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the firing of Iglesias, and several other Republican U.S. Attorneys, so you can forgive me my déjà vu.
History may not quite repeat itself, but dangerous impropriety sure does.
As Iglesias wrote in a March 2007 op-ed in the New York Times, after he testified before the Committee, “[M]uch has been made of my decision to not prosecute alleged voter fraud in New Mexico. Without the benefit of reviewing evidence gleaned from F.B.I. investigative reports, party officials in my state have said that I should have begun a prosecution. What the critics, who don’t have any experience as prosecutors, have asserted is reprehensible — namely that I should have proceeded without having proof beyond a reasonable doubt. The public has a right to believe that prosecution decisions are made on legal, not political, grounds.”
Well said, if ill-remembered. Now consider the Pak situation. As the New York Times reported last night, “Mr. Pak testified that top department officials had made clear that Mr. Trump intended to fire him over his refusal to say that the results in Georgia had been undermined by voter fraud, the person said. Resigning would pre-empt a public dismissal.”
Frankly, I’m not sure why Pak cared about pre-empting a public dismissal by the President. As you may recall, back in March of 2017, I insisted on it. In any event, the parallels between Pak and Iglesias are uncanny, but the recent episode is profoundly more shocking and dangerous.
The forced resignation of Mr. Pak is just part of the ugly saga being tardily told through reporting of witness testimony before Congress. It is all part of the Big Lie, but we are only now learning, piecemeal, how much improper effort went into the attempt to change the 2020 results. And as we learn more, one has to conclude that Trump’s moves to overturn those results are the worst of his presidency and constitute high crimes and misdemeanors.
I co-hosted the Pivot Podcast with Kara Swisher earlier this week, and our guest was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who you may remember had a front row seat to the conduct that got Trump impeached the first time. At the core was a July 25, 2019 call to Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump demanded the announcement of an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. I asked Vindman how he compared that conduct to what he’s read about Trump’s efforts to push Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to take meritless actions regarding the election. Vindman, of course, said they were essentially the same.
Just compare the message to Zelensky to the message to DOJ. In the Ukraine case, as many have pointed out, Trump didn’t even seem to want an investigation, just the announcement of one. That was all he needed, helpful grist to cast aspersions on his most formidable possible opponent in the next election. We see the same M.O. in 2020, except the pressure was brought to bear on his own acting Attorney General, not a foreign leader. As one official’s notes reflect, when Rosen pushed back against Trump’s push for action, the lame-duck leader said this: “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me.” Just say it. Leave the rest to me.
Trump was willing to put the screws to anyone, foreign or domestic, to stay in power. But whereas in L’Affaire Ukraine, the core of the pressure campaign from Trump himself was that July 25th call, in L’Affaire Big Lie, Trump made, and directed, countless calls. He repeatedly pressured Jeffrey Rosen to take improper action. He pressured Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to take improper action. He conspired with DOJ official Jeffrey Clark to make an end-run around the Acting AG, and threatened to replace Rosen with Clark. Trump made his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, pressure DOJ as well. And of course, he effectively terminated his own U.S. Attorney appointee, B.J. Pak, for not playing ball. These are only some of the things the former president did, and only what we know so far.
We need to know all of it. We need a full excavation, a full accounting. Why? In the immortal words of Lt. Colonel Alexander Vindman, because: Here, Right Matters.