Programming note: A new CNN documentary, “Trumping Democracy: An American Coup,” about former President Donald Trump’s attempts to subvert the 2020 election, premieres at 9 p.m. ET on Friday, November 5.
Many of Trump’s actions were done in public view, including dozens of ill-fated lawsuits and tweets that undermined the electoral process. But congressional inquiries and news reports have shed new light on what happened behind the scenes as Trump tried to cling to power.
Here’s a big-picture breakdown of the attempted coup, along with a day-by-day timeline of Trump’s efforts to co-opt the Justice Department to help his campaign.
He tried — but failed — to stop certification in key states in late November and December. After that, Trump and his allies filed meritless lawsuits across the country seeking to nullify the results.
Timeline of Trump’s efforts to abuse the DOJ
- CNN and other news networks project that Biden will win the 2020 presidential election.
- Breaking from long-standing Justice Department policy, Barr issues a directive giving federal prosecutors more leeway to ramp up voter fraud investigations. The move is controversial because — for decades — the Justice Department would wait until elections were certified before taking overt investigative steps, to avoid the appearance of trying to influence the results. The top election crimes prosecutor resigns in protest, and other prosecutors denounce Barr’s order.
- Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell hold a bizarre news conference filled with lies about fraud and unhinged talk of a worldwide conspiracy to rig the election. Powell says, “A full-scale criminal investigation needs to be undertaken immediately by the Department of Justice.”
- In an interview with Fox News, Trump says it’s “inconceivable” that the Justice Department and FBI aren’t doing more to investigate his voter fraud allegations. “Where are they?” he asks.
- Barr tells The Associated Press in a bombshell interview that the Justice Department didn’t find widespread fraud. After the story is published, Trump confronts Barr in the White House. According to a book by Washington Post reporters Carol Leonnig and Philip Rucker, an “explosive and crazed” Trump berates Barr for publicly admitting that there wasn’t widespread fraud. Barr tells Trump his campaign lawyers are a “clown show” and that his fraud claims are “complete nonsense.”
- Trump retweets a post from a Republican congressman who said Trump should order Barr to appoint a special prosecutor to “investigate irregularities in the 2020 election.”
- Trump’s assistant sends Deputy Attorney General Jeff Rosen a document about alleged irregularities in Michigan and says it’s “from POTUS,” according to emails released by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Later that day, while the Electoral College meets in state capitals, Trump announces that Barr will resign and Rosen will soon replace him in an acting capacity. CNN reported that Trump seriously considered firing Barr, but Barr decided to quit.
- Trump summons Rosen to the Oval Office and pressures him to take action regarding supposed irregularities in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Georgia, according to Rosen’s testimony to the Senate. Trump also urges Rosen to file legal briefs supporting GOP-backed election lawsuits and to appoint a special counsel to hunt for fraud, according to The New York Times. Rosen refuses to do Trump’s bidding.
- After failing to persuade Rosen, Trump turns to some of the most extreme members of his coterie, including Powell and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. (Powell represented Flynn in his criminal case for lying to the FBI about his Russian contacts. That case ended when Trump pardoned Flynn a few weeks before the White House meeting.) CNN reported that Flynn and Powell push Trump to consider declaring martial law or signing executive orders to seize voting equipment. Trump also thought about circumventing the Justice Department and naming Powell as a special counsel within the White House to investigate bizarre vote-rigging conspiracies.
- Trump falsely claims — yet again — that he won “in a landslide” and says “we need backing from the Justice Department” to uncover the supposed fraud and keep him in power.
- Barr officially resigns, and Rosen becomes acting attorney general.
Shortly before December 24
- Trump meets with Jeffrey Clark, the acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division, who later will play a key role in the effort to use the Justice Department to keep Trump in power.
- In a phone call, Trump tells Rosen to “make sure the (Justice) Department is really looking into” voter fraud claims in Pennsylvania and Arizona, according to Rosen’s testimony to the Senate.
- Trump continues pleading with Rosen to intervene in the election. In a phone call, Trump tells Rosen and his deputy Richard Donoghue that they should “just say that the election was corrupt” and “leave the rest to me and the (GOP) congressmen,” according to Donoghue’s contemporaneous notes, which he later provided to the House Oversight Committee. Rosen informs Trump that the voter fraud allegations are unfounded and that the Justice Department “can’t, and won’t, just flip a switch and change the election.” After that, Trump mentions that he’s thinking about getting rid of Rosen and putting Clark in charge of the Justice Department.
- At Trump’s request, GOP Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania later calls Donoghue and says the Justice Department isn’t doing enough about the election, according to the Senate report. Perry was one of the most vocal promoters of the “big lie” that the 2020 election was stolen.
- Trump calls Donoghue for a brief follow-up about his voter fraud claims, per the Senate report.
- Clark circulates a draft letter among Justice Department leadership that he wants to send to officials in Georgia. The letter would’ve done exactly what Trump…