Sorry, Congress! Trump AG Jeffrey Rosen Just Can't Talk About His Boss Trying To Ratf*ck The Election :(
There are two ways to interpret former (acting) Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen's testimony yesterday before the House Oversight Committee on the events leading up to the January 6 Capitol Insurrection — one charitable, and one not. It should come as no surprise to regular readers of this blog that we are firmly in the NOT camp. In our defense, we spent four years covering these filthy sumbitches, so we know better than to give them the benefit of the doubt when they try to backdoor their way into an invocation of executive privilege by dint of vague handwaving about presidential confidences and longstanding DOJ practice.
If it walks like a coverup and quacks like a coverup, it's a goddamn coverup.
Here's how Rosen dodged pointed questions from Democratic Rep. Gerry Connolly about pressure on the Justice Department to interfere with the election certification.
"Mr. Rosen, prior to January 6, were you asked or instructed by President Trump to take any action at the Department to advance election fraud claims or to seek to overturn any part of the 2020 election results?" Connolly asked.
"I can tell you what the actions of the Department were, what the outcome was," Rosen answered, powering through Connolly's continued requests to answer the question as asked. "I cannot tell you, consistent with my obligations today, about my conversations with the president one way or the other."
"You're saying this was a privileged communication?" demanded Connolly, incredulously reminding him of the seven deaths associated with the insurrection. "I can't imagine a more critical question. Did you have conversations prior to January 6th with the president of the United States urging you to question, or overturn, or challenge the elections results of 2020? It's a simple question, and by the way, no executive privilege has been invoked prior to this hearing."
In fact Rosen was not invoking any privilege; he was just refusing to answer. And he seemed pretty squirrelly about exactly who told him to keep quiet about his conversations with Trump.
"When you ask me about communications with the president, I as a lawyer don't get to make the decision on whether I can reveal private conversations. Other people make that decision, and I've been asked today to stick to within the ground rules that I have to abide by," he stonewalled.
"By whom?" Connolly demanded.
"I'd be happy to check and get back to you," Rosen supplied by way of non-answer.
Was this a demand by the current Justice Department that he shut up about presidential communications? Or was it the former guy putting the squeeze on him? Note that Rosen managed to get out of there without saying — and he didn't have to invoke executive privilege either.
There's been widespread reporting that Trump tried like hell to get the DOJ to ratfuck the election. In one particularly egregious episode, Trump tried to replace Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, then the (acting) head of the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division, who was champing at the bit to announce an investigation of voter fraud in Georgia and instruct the state not to certify the election results. The situation came to a head in a January 3 Oval Office meeting where Rosen and Clark made their cases "'Apprentice'-style," and Trump was only put off when White House Counsel Pat Cippolone told him that half the DOJ would resign and Congress would come down on him like a ton of bricks if he pulled the trigger.
"That episode is the subject of an Inspector General investigation, and so I'm just not going to be in a position to discuss that," Rosen told Connolly when asked about the event.
See the difference between that very specific explanation and the bobbing-and-weaving above?
Politico's Josh Gerstein describes Rosen ducking Connolly's questions because "Justice officials he did not name had instructed him not to speak about his conversations with Trump." And over at Talking Points Memo, Josh Marshall has an interesting piece (members only, sorry) suggesting that it's entirely consistent with past practice for the DOJ to refuse to answer questions from Congress about the subject of a pending Inspector General's investigation.
But Rosen did more than refuse to answer questions about Clark and his machinations. He continued the previous administration's practice of stonewalling congressional oversight by hinting at vague confidentiality obligations and a concocted right to refuse to answer questions as a means to preserve the right to invoke privilege at some future date.
And if we're a little testy on the subject, it's because we've been watching this shit for four straight years. Here's Attorney General Jeff Sessions pulling exactly the same stunt with Senator Mark Warner on June 13, 2017.
WARNER: Just so I can understand, is the basis of that 'unwilling to answer' based on executive privilege?
SESSIONS: It's a long standing policy [at] the Department of Justice not to comment on conversations that the attorney general had with the president of the united States for confidential reasons that rounded in the coequal branch.
WARNER: Just so I understand, does that mean you claim executive privilege?
SESSIONS: I'm not claiming executive privilege because that's the president's power and I have no power there.
They never want to invoke executive privilege because those words have a defined meaning and can be challenged in court. So miss us with that stuff about Trump loyalists protecting the right of the president to receive candid advice from his staff. Unless and until he's willing to come out and say "Merrick Garland told me not to answer," we're going to assume this is a coverup.
Fool me once ...
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.