By TRACEY RICKS FOSTER Special for South Florida Times
On Dec. 18, 2019, the 116th Congress of the United States made an historic decision. Donald J. Trump became the third president of the United States of America to be impeached. The House of Representatives, after two months of investigation and public hearings, found that Trump was guilty of two major offenses: Obstruction of Justice and Abuse of Power. Those public hearings which began on Nov. 13, 2019, outlined the shadowy and nebulous lengths that the former president undertook to knock out the White House aspirations of then opponent Joseph R. Biden. These schemes were alleged to have begun as far back as 2018 when Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal counsel, hired Lev Parmas and Igor Fruman to dig up grimy information pertaining to Biden son Hunter’s employment at natural oil company Burisma Holdings in Ukraine. The task was centered on discovering seedy information to use as part of a major public smear campaign against Biden and to force newly elected Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to assist. When Zelensky was resistant to the initial efforts by Parmas and Igor due to their being a lack of evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Hunter Biden during his tenure at Burisma, Trump hardened his stance and turned up the heat on Zelensky by following through on his threat to withhold $391 million in military aid earmarked by Congress to the Ukraine, which occurred on July 18, 2019. Then the infamous phone call between Trump and Zelensky happened on July 25, 2019, during which then President Trump continued to pressure Zelensky to open an investigation into Hunter Biden in conjunction with Giuliani and the Department of Justice, headed then by William Barr.
In the impeachment report received by the Senate from Congress in January of 2020, the House noted that “when President Trump asked President Zelensky for a favor, he did so at the expense of both our national security and the integrity of our elections.” Pressuring Zelensky to start investigations into Hunter Biden “weakens” American elections, the report stated. The report further enlightened that when “the President demands that a foreign government announce investigations targeting his domestic political rival, he corrupts our elections.” On Feb. 5, 2020, the U.S. Senate voted to acquit the former president of the charges of abuse of power and the obstruction of justice mainly among party lines. This decision set the stage for a more insidiously dark cloud to permeate the Trump administration that would deeply affect and create serious ﬁssures in American democracy in the months to come. An impeachment and acquittal would subsequently not be enough to slow down the former president or change his quest to remain seated in the heart of power, the White House.
Last week, the Senate Judiciary Committee released its report on the investigation it conducted pertaining to the weeks and months directly following the presidential election in November 2020, which then Democrat candidate Biden won by 81,000,000 votes to Trump’s 74,000,000. The report “Subverting Justice: How the Former President and His Allies Pressured the DOJ To Overturn the 2020 Election,” convincingly delineates the further erosion of the Trump administration as it intensiﬁed and swelled under Trump’s nefarious leadership to steal the election win from Biden, and Trump’s obstructive use of the DOJ to that end. In “Subverting Justice,” the Senate Judiciary Committee surmised that the weakening of American democracy and threat to “free and fair elections” continued with the former president’s direct attempts to use and manipulate the DOJ into opening meritless investigations based on conspiracy theories that implied election fraud with the hopes of overturning election results, that in turn, would cement Trump’s place as president, awarding him a second term in ofﬁce.
The DOJ was founded in 1870 by President Ulysses S. Grant “to protect and preserve civil rights, particularly the right to vote for recently emancipated African Americans.” The DOJ’s mission also included protecting the “integrity of the vote” and the DOJ Civil Rights Division “enforces a range of voting rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Help America Vote Act, the National Voter Registration Act, and the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act.” Along the lines of this principal foundation, the criminal division of the DOJ, Public Integrity Section (PIN), “investigates and prosecutes election fraud, campaign ﬁnance violations, and public corruption that impacts elections.” What does all of this mean regarding the alliance between former President Trump and Barr, former head of the DOJ?
The Senate Judiciary Committee report reveals that in the immediate days following the November 2020 election, Trump pressured his staff and GOP ofﬁcials in various states such as Michigan, Arizona, and Pennsylvania to “ﬁnd” incidents of election fraud. In so doing, Trump attempted to strongarm Barr and the DOJ to investigate these alleged areas of election fraud thereby initiating steps to overturn the election. However, PIN, through its Election Crimes Branch (ECB), acknowledged that the DOJ’s role in investigating election fraud is limited in scope. The DOJ can prosecute those who “violate” federal election criminal law, butt it does not have a role in determining which candidate won a particular election, or whether another election should be held because of the impact of the alleged fraud on the election.” Following Watergate, guidelines were established regarding how the relationship between the White House and the DOJ should proceed to protect the law and democracy. President Nixon abused his executive powers by extending his presidential reach into the DOJ which led to immense corruption, and his eventual resignation in 1974. Trump followed in the footsteps of Nixon, further incurring a deepening of the ﬁssure he created in his attempts to sabotage the presidential hopes of his opponent Biden in 2019 by using his executive authority for his personal beneﬁt. Barr overstepped DOJ policy which prohibits “federal investigators and prosecutors from taking overt investigative steps in election fraud cases “until the election in question [had] been concluded, its results certiﬁed, and all recounts and election contests concluded.” Under the direct influence of Trump, Barr instigated election fraud investigations immediately after the election in a Nov. 9, 2020 memo. Barr soon resigned from his position as head of the DOJ after publicly acknowledging that there was no evidence to substantiate claims of signiﬁcant voter election fraud, saying, “to date, we have not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.” But this does not absolve Barr of his collaborative efforts to derail and subvert the election process in concert with Trump in the months prior to the actual election day in November 2020.
Barr’s resignation letter dated Dec. 14, 2020 did not slow down the Trump administration’s efforts to steal the election from Biden. In fact, things intensiﬁed according to the report. From Dec.15, 2020 to Jan. 4, 2021, Trump formulated what is now almost universally recognized as the “Big Lie,” a collection of far right-wing conspiracy theories, propaganda, and unsubstantiated, unproven misinformation that perpetuates the myth that the 2020 presidential election was stolen from him, when in reality, the actual attempts to steal the election came from within the Trump White House and not Biden campaign headquarters. The “Subverting Justice” report details at length the direct communications between the DOJ and the White House to insulate the “Big Lie” and give it legs. Before Barr ofﬁcially departed the DOJ for the last time on Dec. 23, 2020, Trump drafted the help of Deputy Attorney Gen. Jeffrey Rosen, hoping that Rosen would force the DOJ to “do its job” in investigating unfounded claims of election fraud. This pressure was unrelenting, culminating in Rosen confessing to the former president that the DOJ “can’t and won’t just flip a switch and change the election.”
The “Subverting Justice” report also offers the blueprint of other Trump sycophants who worked tirelessly on his behalf in attempting to steal the election from Biden. From White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to Richard Donoghuh, to the twist in the steal plot created in the DOJ by Jeffrey Clark, who proposed the “Proof of Concept” letter that suggested that, for certain states whose election results were contested by the Trump campaign, such as Georgia, the DOJ could in effect sidestep the official state electoral results and thereby that particular state could hold a “special session” that would effectively invalidate votes for Biden. This letter was drafted to be sent to Georgia Gov. Kemp but was rejected. The ultimate plan soon centered around preventing the certification of the Electoral College votes. The former president’s willful strategy to subvert the DOJ, and in essence American democracy, culminated in the Jan. 6, 2021 “Stop The Steal” insurrection at the Capitol. As with the investigation of Donald Trump, his abuse of power and obstructing of justice, along with the actions of his allies in the weeks following his loss of the 2020 election, it can be said that the true assessment and measurement how deep the fissure of American democracy goes may never be fully realized. But the aftereffects will be felt during the upcoming midterms in 2022. One thing can be guaranteed from the “Subverting Justice” report: the Department of Justice has been greatly compromised and the distinct guidelines that protect the right for all Americans, and especially African Americans, to experience the privilege to exercise their inherent right to vote has been threatened.