ATLANTA — As the New Year approached and former President Donald Trump continued to insist the 2020 election had been stolen from him, the former U.S. attorney in Atlanta spoke on the phone with Richard Donoghue. The latter was just elevated to one of the top posts in the Justice Department.
Donoghue had called, according to testimony from Byung J. "BJay" Pak, the former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, because he was "very frustrated" that Trump "was solely focused on Georgia" and "nothing would dissuade the president from believing that the election was in fact stolen from him."
Donoghue, at that point the principal U.S. deputy attorney general, said Trump "just would not believe that he lost Georgia."
He told Pak there was an idea spreading around inside the DOJ that the agency should sign on to "some letter suggesting that the (Georgia) general assembly call a special session and to refuse to certify the electoral college votes." Another part of the scheme involved the DOJ endorsing a lawsuit filed by the Trump campaign.
Pak, who before becoming the U.S. attorney by Trump's appointment in 2017 had been a federal prosecutor and then-Republican representative in the general assembly for six years, had a blunt assessment of what Donoghue was telling him.
"I said, well, that's crazy," Pak explained, according to his recollection. "That's just highly crazy. I think (Donoghue) used the words that this is bat s*** crazy."
On Thursday, Pak's comments came to light in newly-released Senate testimony by the Judiciary Committee, which issued a final report on its eight-month investigation into Trump's crusade to overturn the 2020 election.
Days after the conversation with Donoghue, Pak would resign after the leak of a now-infamous phone call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger in which the former president called Pak a "never-Trumper."
The secretary, now a favorite target of Trump, was also at the time resisting the former president's pressure campaign.
Pak's testimony, given in August to the Judiciary Committee, includes his comments that "obviously we concluded that there was nothing there" in terms of fraud in Georgia and his belief that the president's insistence that some subversion had happened was "disturbing."
The interview transcript runs more than 120 pages and provides new details from Pak about the actual investigations into fraud claims by Trump and his allies.
In particular, it details how Pak's office determined that one of the now-infamous pillars of the fraud claim in Georgia - that some scheme to rig the vote was perpetrated at State Farm Arena in Atlanta on Election Night - had no substance to it.
Pak said that he learned of surveillance tapes from inside the arena after Rudy Giuliani came to speak to a Georgia Senate subcommittee in early December. At that point, he "contacted the people responsible for four investigations in my office and relayed to them in general that we want to find out what's going on with this videotape."
This involved listening to interviews the Georgia Secretary of State's Office had already done with the election workers who were there that night and watching the video - with Pak saying he found "the explanation of it and it was all consistent."
The FBI also interviewed the election workers. Pak said he was informed "that the interviews were consistent with what was in the audio recordings and there was nothing irregular about the events. And the allegations or statements made by Mr. Giuliani during the Senate hearing were contradicted by the FBI and my own investigation of the situation."
Pakelaborated that in a later conversation with then-Attorney General William Barr, he said there was "nothing nefarious to open any kind of case" based on the State Farm Arena investigations.
By the time of early January, Pak's conclusion that nothing subversive had happened at State Farm Arena had put him on the outs with the president.
In another call with Donoghue, he was told Trump had wanted to fire him and that they were hoping he would instead resign - though his original plan had been to leave his post after Joe Biden's inauguration.
"Mr. Donoghue relayed to me that the President was very unhappy and that he wanted to fire me, that he believed that I was a Never Trumper and Mr. Donoghue told me that he had told Mr. Trump that he thought that was incorrect and that the President did not care, but wanted me out of that spot," Pak said in testimony. "Mr. Donoghue then asked me like how long were you planning to stay after you submit your resignation. I told him that, you know, through inauguration. And Mr. Donoghue said, no, unfortunately, it can't be that long."