Atlanta’s top federal prosecutor was apparently forced by the White House to resign earlier this week, ahead of the Georgia runoffs, because he didn’t do enough to help President Trump overturn the 2020 presidential election. The Wall Street Journal reported Saturday that Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak, who had cited “unforeseen circumstances” for his sudden resignation on Monday, had been told by a senior Justice Department official that he needed to step down because Trump was not satisfied with his efforts to investigate alleged voter fraud. Pak, who had originally planned to resign on January 20, was the top federal prosecutor for the Northern District of Georgia. He has refused opportunities to comment about the circumstances of his resignation from both the Journal and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
Trump had complained about Pak during the recorded call he made to Georgia election officials on January 2, writing the prosecutor off as a “Never Trumper.” This was the same call in which the president attempted to pressure Georgia’s secretary of State to “find” him enough votes to overturn his loss to President-elect Joe Biden in the state. The Washington Post reported Saturday that Trump had also made an earlier call to Georgia’s top elections investigator to pressure them to “find the fraud” in late December. It’s possible, if not likely, that these were not the only direct efforts the president and his allies made in the state. The Journal additionally reports that “an official at the Georgia secretary of State’s office on Saturday said the White House called officials and staff at the office for weeks demanding proof of election fraud — long before the call to Mr. Raffensperger”:
“They were desperately trying to find evidence for lawsuits that were about to be thrown out of court,” the Georgia official said. “They kept telling us that, ‘You need to give us the evidence’ and the truth is there isn’t any evidence to give.”
The forced resignation of Pak is the first reported instance of Trump and White House apparently retaliating against someone over a failure to substantiate the president’s baseless conspiracy theories regarding Georgia’s returns. It also suggests that Trump’s pressure campaign to overturn his loss to Biden there may not have been limited to state election officials. As the Journal-Constitution pointed out on Saturday, Pak’s resignation wasn’t the only suspicious development regarding the Northern District of Georgia this week:
On Tuesday, the Department of Justice reported that Trump replaced Pak on an acting basis with Bobby Christine, the [Savannah-based] U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia. The move was unusual, bypassing the next-highest ranking prosecutor in the Atlanta office for a Trump-appointed top prosecutor in another district.
Not surprisingly, the move has also prompted concerns that Trump and the White House may have been attempting to interfere in law-enforcement investigations for political gain. On Saturday night, the Washington Post reported that Christine “has brought to his new assignment two assistants previously tasked with monitoring possible election fraud, raising fears that he might be taking steps to lend credibility to Trump’s baseless claims of electoral malfeasance, people familiar with the matter said.”:
Christine tapped two assistant U.S. attorneys in the Southern District of Georgia — Joshua S. Bearden and Jason Blanchard — for some type of work in the Northern District, people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s political sensitivity. Their task is unclear, but Christine had recently assigned both to serve as district election officers reviewing complaints of election fraud and voting rights abuses …
The move, legal observers say, is unusual on multiple levels. Atlanta already has more prosecutors than Savannah, including those with experience in election cases, so it is unclear why Christine would want additional personnel there. It would be atypical for an acting U.S. attorney to initiate an investigation or special assignment so close to the end of a presidential administration.
No credible evidence of meaningful voter fraud in the 2020 election has been uncovered anywhere in the U.S., including Georgia, and Trump and his allies’ repeated legal efforts to allege otherwise have been rejected by countless courts. Nonetheless, Trump has continued to make his baseless claims ad nauseam, including on Wednesday, when he incited a crowd of his supporters to march on the U.S. Capitol while a joint session of Congress was underway to affirm Biden’s legitimate victory. A violent mob then stormed the Capitol, resulting in five deaths, including a Capitol Police officer.
Trump has since conceded his defeat, and the Post reports that Trump’s lawyers have apparently abandoned their election-related legal efforts in Georgia. Regardless, the president’s actions to pressure Georgia election officials and potentially influence federal voter-fraud investigations in the state will likely add fuel to the impeachment fire in Congress, though thus far, House Democrats appear to be narrowly focusing that effort on Trump’s incitement of the Capitol riot.