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Watchdog to probe if Justice Dept officials improperly tried to alter 2020 election

Sarah N. Lynch and David Shepardson
·3-min read
FILE PHOTO: Poll workers pose as votes continue to be counted at the TCF Center the day after the 2020 U.S. presidential election, in Detroit, Michigan

By Sarah N. Lynch and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department's internal watchdog on Monday said his office was launching an investigation on whether current or former department officials made an "improper attempt" to seek to alter the results of the 2020 presidential election.

The announcement by Inspector General Michael Horowitz came after the New York Times first reported that Jeffrey Clark, then the department's acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, had plotted with former President Donald Trump in a failed attempt to oust then-Attorney General Jeff Rosen so that he could launch a probe of alleged voter fraud in Georgia.

Clark was sympathetic to Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, and he met with Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania to discuss a plan to have the department launch election fraud investigations to help achieve Trump's goal of overturning Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.

Perry has since confirmed that he introduced Clark to Trump.

“Throughout the past four years, I worked with Assistant Attorney General Clark on various legislative matters. When President Trump asked if I would make an introduction, I obliged,” Perry said in a statement.

The plan to oust Rosen and replace him with Clark so that the department could pursue investigations of Trump's baseless voter fraud claims collapsed after senior department leaders pledged to resign in protest, current and former Justice Department officials told Reuters.

The reports about Clark and Trump's failed plan "raise deeply troubling questions regarding the Justice Department's role in Trump's scheme to overturn the election," wrote nine Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

According to current and former officials, Clark tried to pressure Rosen and former acting Deputy Attorney General Rich Donoghue to hold a press conference to announce they were pursuing allegations of election fraud. They said he also advocated for them to send a letter he had penned to Georgia state officials announcing they were launching a probe.

Rosen and Donoghue rejected both requests.

In early January, Clark told Rosen that he had met with Trump to discuss his legal strategies, and that Trump intended to install him as the new acting attorney general.

Donoghue then arranged an emergency conference call with senior department leaders to tell them about Clark's plan.

All of them pledged to resign if Trump followed through on Clark's plan, the current and former officials confirmed to Reuters.

In a meeting at the White House later that evening, senior Justice Department officials met with Trump and other White House lawyers and convinced Trump not to appoint Clark.

Clark has since left the Justice Department and has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

Inspector General Michael Horowitz said in a statement that his probe will encompass "all relevant allegations that may arise."

His office, he added, does not have jurisdiction to investigate other government officials outside of the Justice Department.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and David Shepardson; Editing by Scott Malone and Dan Grebler)