The independent watchdog at the U.S. Justice Department said Monday he is launching an investigation into whether anyone at the agency "engaged in an improper attempt" to overturn Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 presidential election.
Inspector General Michael Horowitz said he would examine the actions of current and former Justice Department officials, but not those elsewhere in the government.
Former Attorney General William Barr, who headed the Justice Department before leaving office a month ago, said the agency had "not seen fraud on a scale that could have effected a different outcome" than Biden's victory.
But President Donald Trump, whose four-year term in the White House ended last Wednesday when Biden was inaugurated as the country's 46th president, for weeks made unfounded claims of voting and vote-counting irregularities that cheated him out of reelection, even as judges dismissed about 60 court cases claiming fraud in the key states that Biden won and proved decisive in the election.
Horowitz's announcement of an investigation came after The New York Times reported that Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark had been discussing a plan with Trump in late December to oust Jeffrey Rosen, the agency's acting attorney general after Barr left Trump's Cabinet, and then claim there had been widespread fraud and challenge the election results.
The conversations reportedly occurred in the days ahead of Congress's January 6 meeting to certify Biden's victory in the Electoral College that is determinative of U.S. presidential elections.
In a statement, Clark denied he had tried to oust Rosen, and Rosen declined to comment to The Washington Post. With Biden in the White House, Clark and Rosen, both Trump appointees, have now left the Justice Department.
The challenge would have focused on the southern state of Georgia, where Biden won by just under 12,000 votes out of the 5 million ballots that were cast, becoming the first Democratic presidential candidate to carry the state since 1992. Even had Georgia, with 16 votes in the Electoral College, flipped to Trump, it would not have been enough to change the overall outcome.
But Trump was so fixated on the Georgia outcome, unexpected as Biden's victory was, that at one point in early January he asked Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to "find" the 11,780 votes he would need to overtake Biden by a single vote.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a staunch critic of Trump, had demanded that Horowitz start an investigation "into this attempted sedition" by Clark. The New York Democrat said it was "unconscionable a Trump Justice Department leader would conspire to subvert the people's will."
The Times report said that Trump decided not to dismiss Rosen in favor of Clark after top Justice Department officials said they would stage a mass resignation if he fired Rosen.
The former president has not yet commented.
Clark has said the newspaper's account of his conversations with Trump was inaccurate but declined to detail the inaccuracies.