A full year after the 2020 presidential election, new details are still emerging about former President Trump’s unprecedented effort to overturn the results.
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.
Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Trump’s attempted coup was how he relentlessly tried to weaponize the Justice Department to nullify President Joe Biden’s victory. The Democratic-run Senate Judiciary Committee investigated Trump’s conduct and concluded in a recent report that he “grossly abused the power of the presidency.”
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.
Big-picture summary of the coup attempt: Four days after Election Day, CNN and other news outlets projected that Biden had won. Instead of conceding, Trump immediately started pressuring local, state and federal officials to overturn the results. Many of these officials rebuffed his demands, concluding they were unethical, illegal or unconstitutional. But some officials and advisers joined the charge and tried to help.
Within weeks, Trump met with and spoke to officials from Michigan and Pennsylvania who were involved in the election process, hoping they’d block Biden’s victory. He fired a senior cybersecurity official at the Department of Homeland Security who publicly debunked his lies about voter fraud. And he cranked up the pressure on the Justice Department, even after Attorney General Bill Barr ordered prosecutors to investigate voter fraud allegations.
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.
Trump called Pennsylvania lawmakers, urging them to ignore the fact that Biden won their state and appoint GOP electors instead. He called Georgia’s governor and pushed him to convince state lawmakers there to do the same. These efforts also fell flat, and members of the Electoral College met on Dec. 14, 2020, to officially affirm Biden’s victory.
Running out of time before the transfer of power, Trump became increasingly desperate and even entertained a suggestion to declare martial law. In a now-infamous call on January 2, 2021, Trump pleaded with Georgia’s top election official to “find” enough Republican votes to overtake Biden’s margin. (This phone call is now at the center of a criminal investigation by state prosecutors in Atlanta.)
Trump and his allies repeatedly urged top Justice Department officials to help them overturn the results — and Trump nearly fired the acting attorney general who refused to do his bidding.
Trump also mounted a private and public effort to pressure Vice President Mike Pence into unconstitutionally nullifying Biden’s win while presiding over the Electoral College process.
The coup attempt reached a horrifying crescendo on Jan. 6, 2021, when Trump held a massive rally near the White House and incited thousands of supporters to attack the Capitol while lawmakers were certifying the Electoral College results. The insurrection was quelled, but it led to five deaths and 140 police officers were injured. Biden was inaugurated two weeks later.
See a detailed timeline of Trump’s efforts to abuse the Justice Department here.