“It seems to me that it is entirely within the scope of this interview,” said Sara Zdeb, chief attorney for the Senate Judiciary Committee, Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), After Weinsheimer intervened for a response from Byung Pak, a former US attorney to block out the Atlanta area. Pak resigned on Jan. 4 under pressure from Trump to meddle in electoral matters.
The exchange, one of a dozen times Weisenheimer prevented former officials from answering questions from the committee, underscores the tension facing the Justice Department von Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland. Although Democrats in Congress largely welcomed Garland’s willingness to provide witnesses, the interviews show that the Biden administration will continue to protect the interests of the executive branch.
And that tension could be exacerbated as House and Senate investigators begin delving deeper into Trump’s White House’s role in orchestrating efforts to overthrow the 2020 election.
Nonetheless, the Biden Justice Department has taken unprecedented steps to provide details on Trump’s campaign to tip the election, including waiving privileges for senior Trump DOJ officials to testify. This enabled Pak, former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his deputy Richard Donoghue, to give detailed testimony to Trump’s printing campaign.
Senate Democratic investigators had specifically asked Pak to state whether he had received evidence that 2,560 felons voted in Georgia, a claim propagated by the Trump campaign that was later found to be unfounded. Weinsheimer said the issue was beyond the scope of the committee’s investigation, which focused specifically on Trump’s pressure campaign against Pak and other senior DOJ officials.
“You get into specific investigations that have nothing to do with the specific pressure on Mr. Pak, and so I would object,” said Weinsheimer.
“It seems to me that there is an inherent understanding… whether there were certain things that [White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows], said the President that Mr. Pak’s office should investigate what they did not investigate, “Zdeb answered according to the transcripts.
But Weinsheimer didn’t give in, and Pak’s personal attorney referred to the Justice Department.
While the DOJ has waived privileges to allow high-ranking Trump DOJ officials to testify, it tries to protect executive prerogatives. The Justice Department declined to comment, but Garland confirmed in an interview Monday that the DOJ is in regular contact with the White House on issues of executive privilege in connection with an investigation into former President Trump.
But the ministry is still tightly scrutinizing the specific investigative steps it may have taken to pursue electoral fraud allegations, despite advisers from both parties saying information is essential to understanding the context of Trump’s move. The Justice Department declined to comment, but Garland confirmed in an interview Monday that the DOJ is in regular contact with the White House on issues of executive privilege in connection with the investigation into former President Trump.
Durbin told reporters Thursday that he was not concerned about the refusal to allow witnesses to answer certain questions because the interviews themselves were primarily exceptional.
“What opened the door to this investigation was the attorney general’s decision that they could not hide behind any privileges,” Durbin said Thursday. “You could testify what happened. So I think in general the opposite is true. I think Merrick Garland’s position really opened the door to more inquiries like this. “
But a spokesman for the Republican Supreme Judiciary Committee, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, pointed to the refusal to answer certain questions and said it contradicted the DOJ’s promise to be transparent.
“It is noteworthy that while President Biden took the extraordinary step of foregoing the privilege of the executive branch to publicize the former president’s deliberations with his top advisors, Biden’s own Justice Department thwarted the same level of transparency as it did after the department-provided records were asked and what it did to actually investigate allegations of irregularities in the 2020 elections, “said Grassley spokesman Taylor Foy.
Most of Weinsheimer’s objections came during questioning by Republican attorney Josh Flynn-Brown. During an interview with Rosen, Weinsheimer prevented Rosen from answering questions about whether the department opened electoral fraud cases prior to certifying the 2020 results. He also prevented Pak from answering a similar question.
“I would disagree with this question. It is outside the scope of the authorization, ”said Weinsheimer.
“I think it’s accurate in scope and a very critical question for him,” Flynn-Brown replied.
In the same interview, Flynn-Brown asked Pak for examples of the types of fraud allegations he had received in connection with the 2020 elections. Weinsheimer contradicted it again.
“I think I had five objections in the Donoghue interview. I had one in the Rosen interview. I have two now. Let’s see how many I can muster today, ”said Flynn-Brown.
“Then I recommend that you stay within the framework, and I won’t mind,” replied Weinsheimer.
During the Democratic survey of Pak, Weinsheimer also prevented Pak from providing a full response on his work after Pak appeared to have begun discussing efforts to investigate threats against election officials.
“At this point,” said Weinsheimer, “I’m afraid that Mr. Pak could go beyond the scope.”