Georgia US attorney quit after Trump pressure to reject election results, new report confirms

Former President Donald Trump forced a top federal prosecutor in Atlanta to step down because he wouldn't help Trump overturn his loss of Georgia in the 2020 presidential election, a U.S. Senate report released Thursday said.

The report, written by Senate Judiciary Committee Democrats, found that the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, Byung Jin “BJay" Pak, resigned under pressure from the Trump White House in early January.

Pak would not substantiate unfounded claims that the election results in Georgia were fraudulent, the report said.

Trump's attorney general, William Barr, asked Pak to make an investigation of supposedly illegal ballots carried around in suitcases “a top priority," Pak told committee investigators in an interview made public for the first time Thursday.

Thursday's report was only an interim account, released as committee investigators continue to gather evidence in their investigation into Trump's efforts shortly after the November election to undermine President Joe Biden's victory.

Though the findings aren't final, the report adds details about Pak's ouster and confirms it was related to his resistance to pursuing Trump's demands to find nonexistent election fraud.

Pak's resignation letter, submitted Jan. 4, made no mention of his reason for leaving the post he'd held since October 2017, though the move raised questions at the time because it broke with the Justice Department's succession protocol.

Bobby Christine, then the U.S. attorney for the neighboring Southern District of Georgia, replaced Pak on an acting basis. Under normal procedure, Pak's top deputy, Kurt Erskine, would have become the acting U.S. attorney.

A 'never-Trumper'

In a Jan. 3 Oval Office meeting, Trump complained to acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who by then had replaced Barr, and acting Deputy Attorney General Richard O'Donoghue that Pak was a “never-Trumper," according to the report.

Trump said he'd prefer Christine to take over the Northern District office, which includes Atlanta, because “he'll do something about [election fraud]."

Trump was displeased that Pak, a former Republican state legislator whom Trump had appointed to the U.S. attorney post, wouldn't back unfounded claims of election fraud related to ballots inside State Farm Arena in Atlanta.

Rudy Giuliani, a personal attorney and adviser to Trump, traveled to Georgia in early December to promote the theory that a video showed poll workers at the arena delivering suitcases full of illegal ballots.

Barr, before he stepped down as attorney general Dec. 14, asked Pak to make an investigation of Giuliani's claim “a top priority," Pak told committee investigators.

U.S. Sens. Jon Ossoff, (D-Ga.), and Richard J. Blumenthal, (D-Conn.) and Judiciary Committee staff members were present for Pak's interview.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger's office quickly debunked that Giuliani claim, finding instead that the supposed suitcases were secure ballot boxes holding legitimate ballots.

Pak personally reviewed video and audio from the arena and confirmed the secretary of state's findings were valid, he said.

“I was comfortable that the main allegation that Mr. Giuliani made with respect to the secure ballot box being a suitcase full of fake ballots, that was not true," Pak told committee investigators. “That was debunked. I was satisfied of the explanation."

But Trump and some allies continued to push that theory and other strategies to overturn Biden's victory in Georgia.

On Jan. 2, Trump called Raffensperger and asked him, during an hour-long call, to “find" enough ballots to change the election result.

The next day, Trump met with Rosen and Donoghue and said he wanted to fire Pak, whom he called a “never-Trumper" who wouldn't zealously pursue fraud claims.

Donoghue resisted. But when Trump overruled him, Donoghue told him Pak planned to step down the next day anyway, though Pak had actually told colleagues he planned to stay in office until Inauguration Day.

“That's fine," Trump responded, according to Donoghue's testimony. “I'm not going to fire him, then. But when his resignation comes in, it's accepted. Tomorrow is his last day as U.S. attorney."

Trump then suggested Christine take over the Northern District. Donoghue responded that Erskine was next in the line of succession, but Trump insisted on Christine.

Pak did submit a “very bland" letter of resignation on Jan. 4 in order to avoid disrupting a special U.S. Senate election the next day, he told investigators.

The committee report concludes that the Trump White House made inappropriate demands of the Justice Department to investigate claims of election fraud, especially in Georgia.

Mark Meadows, a former North Carolina congressman who was Trump's White House chief of staff, asked Rosen to “investigate various discredited claims of election fraud in Georgia," the report said.

Grassley retort

After the Democrats' report was issued Thursday, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, Iowa's senior senator and the ranking Republican on the Judiciary panel, pushed back against it and said it vindicated Trump rather than implicating him.

The report focuses on Trump receiving advice from Jeffrey Clark, then the head of the Justice Department's civil division, outside counsel John Eastman and others to take drastic actions to subvert the election results.

Those steps included firing the top DOJ leadership and installing Clark, sending letters to states asking them to contest the results, and suing states with voter issues.

But Trump rejected the most extreme options, Grassley said.

“The Democrats' report makes much of efforts by individual lawyers to push the department to take these steps," Grassley said. “But the fact is, none of these steps were taken because President Trump made the ultimate decision not to."

Representatives for Ossoff did not return a message seeking comment Thursday. A spokeswoman for fellow Georgia Democrat Sen. Raphael Warnock also did not return a request for comment.

Both were elected in the historic special election runoff on Jan. 5, the day after Pak resigned.


Georgia Recorder is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Georgia Recorder maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John McCosh for questions: info@georgiarecorder.com. Follow Georgia Recorder on Facebook and Twitter.

'Wildfire year’ meant record days at the highest preparedness level: Forest Service chief

The U.S. Forest Service spent more consecutive days this summer at the agency's highest level of preparedness for wildfires than in any previous year, Forest Service Chief Randy Moore told a U.S. House subcommittee Wednesday.

Moore's comments reflected the growing danger from more intense and harder-to -control fires that have swept Western and Midwestern states this season, even if fewer acres actually have burned than in recent years.

Moore, appearing at his first congressional hearing since taking office in July, told the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry that firefighters should be paid more and deserve better work-life balance. The pay raises the administration provided earlier this year were “a good beginning" to improving conditions for firefighters, he said.

By some measures, the 2021 fire season has been milder than in recent years. The 5.9 million acres burned as of Wednesday is only the fourth-highest on the same date in the last five years, according to data from the National Interagency Fire Center.

Still, the 2021 season started unusually early, Moore said. And many of the individual fires were more intense, subcommittee ranking Republican Doug LaMalfa of California said. Lawmakers said the wildfire season had extended to “wildfire year."

The federal government should focus more on forest management, which is equally important to fire suppression, Moore said.

“We talk a lot about fire suppression," Moore said. “But we need to spend an equal amount of time on treatments out on the ground."

About 20 million acres should be prioritized for treatment in the next 10 years, he said. More than 66 million acres are at high risk for wildfire, according to the Forest Service.

But that task is made more difficult by the loss of workers. The agency has lost 38 percent of its non-fire workforce in the last 20 years, Moore said. The loss of those staffers has diminished the agency's ability to manage forests in ways that make fires less likely and severe.

Arizona Democrat Tom O'Halleran said that was a result of underfunding.

“Congress has been not willing to put the money forward," he said.

Moore said the agency would benefit from additional funding.

“If we have more, we'll do more," Moore said. “It's up to you all to determine what more looks like."

Reconciliation and infrastructure bills

Wednesday's subcommittee hearing took place against the backdrop of fast-approaching deadlines for major legislation to enact much of President Joe Biden's domestic policy agenda through a $1.2 trillion physical infrastructure bill and a $3.5 trillion budget plan that Democrats plan to pass through the budget reconciliation process.

Moore said the “legislation being considered now" would increase the Forest Service's ability to prevent fires.

In response to a question from Subcommittee Chair Abigail Spanberger, (D-Va.), Moore said a Civilian Climate Corps, a conservation jobs program that would be created in the $3.5 trillion package, would help bolster resilience to wildfires and create a pathway to forestry careers.

Spanberger called on Congress to act on wildfires by passing the $3.5 trillion budget plan that includes provisions meant to address climate change.

“It should not take the ash of these wildfires or the debris and floodwaters of hurricanes ravaging our coasts or the severe heat felt by millions across the nation and across the globe on a daily basis — it should not take that reaching the Capitol steps for Congress to take action on the environmental crisis we are currently facing," she said.

The $3.5 trillion budget plan includes $14 billion for thinning national forests to mitigate their fire risk, $9 billion more for similar state programs, $1 billion for critical vegetation management and other forest management provisions, Spanberger said.

But Republicans on the panel criticized the measure for not making policy changes to make forest management easier.

Glenn 'GT' Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican who is the ranking member on the Agriculture Committee, said the reconciliation bill would make management more difficult.

“It restricts the Forest Service's ability to do the restoration necessary for millions of acres," Thompson said of the forestry measure in the reconciliation bill. “We can't just throw money at wildfire while limiting the service and hope for a different outcome."

LaMalfa said there was too great a focus on climate change and not enough on overgrown forests, which he said are a major factor in worsening fires.

“While many continue to blame a changing climate for the increase of acres burned each year and the greater intensity of recent wildfires, the fact is that most of forests are overgrown and overstocked," he said. “We aren't doing enough to reduce these fuel loads… We will not solve this crisis without a fundamental shift in how we manage these lands."

Spanberger also said climate was not the only factor in worsening wildfires. The encroachment of housing developments into wild areas and human behavior also contribute, she said.

Arizona Mirror is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Arizona Mirror maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jim Small for questions: info@azmirror.com. Follow Arizona Mirror on Facebook and Twitter.

Huge uptick in pandemic ‘air rage’ hits flight attendants

Flight attendants have been subject to unprecedented harassment over masks and more during the pandemic, and a U.S. House panel on Thursday heard the raw details of those “air rage" incidents.

While there's no hard data, the leader of the flight attendants' union said the most aggression appears to occur in Southern states where there's been pushback against mask mandates.

Teddy Andrews, an attendant based in Charlotte, N.C., for American Airlines, told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee he had “lost count" of the number of times he'd been insulted. But he related one incident in particular that made him “question [his] career choice."

Andrews said he asked a passenger to put his mask on properly, after the passenger had already brought another flight attendant to tears.

The passenger exploded, insisting he did not have to comply, and twice hurled racist slurs at Andrews, who is Black.

“While I am trained for this, I know I don't deserve to be spoken to like this under any circumstance," said Andrews, who testified on behalf of the flight attendants' union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Andrews said he responded calmly, the passenger eventually complied and the rest of the flight continued without incident.

The confrontation was one of thousands that have plagued flight attendants and other airline and airport employees during the pandemic, especially as air travel has picked up—along with seeming frustration about mask mandates.

Earlier this year, unruly passenger reports in 2021 were on pace to outnumber all previous years' incidents combined, said Sara Nelson, the influential leader of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Of the 4,385 reports so far this year, nearly three-quarters were related to mask wearing, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.

That pace of unruly passenger reports has since dipped, according to the FAA. An agency news release Thursday said the rate last week of six incidents per 10,000 flights was half of its peak in February and March.

But the rate is still more than double what it was at the end of last year.

Nelson said there is little hard data on demographic trends, but she said that survey results show more incidents in Southern hubs in North Carolina, Florida and Texas airports where there is more discord over COVID-19 restrictions.

“Incidents are more likely happening out of places where there has been a real inconsistent communication and very clear opposition to masks and dealing with this public health crisis," Nelson said.

Mandates, pricey snacks, security screenings

Without excusing the behavior, Republicans on the panel said mask mandates contributed to the passenger frustration that has led to increased incidents of air rage.

The aviation panel's ranking Republican, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, said members should look at the issue “holistically" and seek to understand what made air travel so anxiety-inducing, including policies meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Graves ran through a litany of frustrations, ranging from inconsistent airport security screening protocols to overpriced snacks to a federal mask mandate for transportation, saying all contributed to passengers feeling on edge.

“We've got to make sure that we're looking at the entire flight experience," Graves said. “Why are these incidences increasing, spiking like they are? … Seventy-five percent of air rage incidents that are occurring are tied back to masks."

Graves and Rep. Troy Nehls, (R-Texas), also said photos of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John F. Kerry and a group of Texas Democratic state lawmakers traveling without masks on planes showed a frustrating double standard.

Calls for better enforcement

Democrats on the committee called for greater enforcement of existing rules against unruly passenger behavior.

In about 40% of cases, no one on the plane alerts on-ground law enforcement of the incident, Nelson said.

Flight attendants often feel pressured to get to their next flight and don't feel their airlines will support them in pausing to file a complaint, she said, noting United Airlines as an exception through a program that encourages attendants to file a police report.

Other cases of harassment don't necessarily rise to the level needed to involve police.

Andrews, for example, said he didn't alert law enforcement or the plane's captains of the incident he told the panel about because the passenger was not threatening.

The FAA adopted a zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers in January, enabling the agency to skip warning letters and go straight to fines. It has issued $1.1 million in fines so far this year.

Nelson and Democrats on the panel called for greater criminal enforcement from the Justice Department and FBI as well.

Asked Thursday whether the Biden administration would support criminal prosecutions against unruly airline passengers, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki responded by highlighting the recent move to double fines issued to those who refuse to comply with mask mandates.

“We're hopeful it will have an impact on people behaving in a safer way on flights," Psaki said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio, (D-Ore.), also raised the idea of banning to-go alcohol sales in airports and allowing airlines to share information on unruly passengers.

DeFazio said the FAA could coordinate a nationwide list of unruly passengers. Under the current system, passengers banned by one airline have no restriction on flying with another.

Laura Olson contributed to this report.


Louisiana Illuminator is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Louisiana Illuminator maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Jarvis DeBerry for questions: info@lailluminator.com. Follow Louisiana Illuminator on Facebook and Twitter.

Huge uptick in pandemic 'air rage' hits flight attendants

Flight attendants have been subject to unprecedented harassment over masks and more during the pandemic, and a U.S. House panel on Thursday heard the raw details of those “air rage" incidents.

While there are no hard data, the leader of the flight attendants' union said the most aggression appears to occur in Southern states where there's been pushback against mask mandates.

Teddy Andrews, an attendant based in Charlotte, N.C., for American Airlines, told the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Aviation Subcommittee he had “lost count" of the number of times he'd been insulted. But he related one incident in particular that made him “question [his] career choice."

Andrews said he asked a passenger to put his mask on properly, after the passenger had already brought another flight attendant to tears.

The passenger exploded, insisting he did not have to comply, and twice hurled racist slurs at Andrews, who is Black.

“While I am trained for this, I know I don't deserve to be spoken to like this under any circumstance," said Andrews, who testified on behalf of the flight attendants' union, the Association of Professional Flight Attendants.

Andrews said he responded calmly, the passenger eventually complied and the rest of the flight continued without incident.

The confrontation was one of thousands that have plagued flight attendants and other airline and airport employees during the pandemic, especially as air travel has picked up — along with seeming frustration about mask mandates.

Earlier this year, unruly passenger reports in 2021 were on pace to outnumber all previous years' incidents combined, said Sara Nelson, leader of the Association of Flight Attendants.

Of the 4,385 reports so far this year, nearly three-quarters were related to mask wearing, according to Federal Aviation Administration data.

That pace of unruly passenger reports has since dipped, according to the FAA. An agency news release Thursday said the rate last week of six incidents per 10,000 flights was half of its peak in February and March.

But the rate is still more than double what it was at the end of last year.

Nelson said there are little hard data on demographic trends, but that survey results show more incidents in Southern hubs in North Carolina, Florida, and Texas airports where there is more discord over COVID-19 restrictions.

“Incidents are more likely happening out of places where there has been a real inconsistent communication and very clear opposition to masks and dealing with this public health crisis," Nelson said.

Mandates, pricey snacks, security screenings

Without excusing the behavior, Republicans on the panel said mask mandates contributed to the passenger frustration that has led to increased incidents of air rage.

The aviation panel's ranking Republican, U.S. Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana, said members should look at the issue “holistically" and seek to understand what made air travel so anxiety-inducing, including policies meant to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Graves ran through a litany of frustrations, ranging from inconsistent airport security screening protocols to overpriced snacks to a federal mask mandate for transportation, saying all contributed to passengers feeling on edge.

“We've got to make sure that we're looking at the entire flight experience," Graves said. “Why are these incidences increasing, spiking like they are? … Seventy-five percent of air rage incidents that are occurring are tied back to masks."

Graves and Rep. Troy Nehls (R-Texas) said photos of U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John F. Kerry and a group of Texas Democratic state lawmakers traveling without masks on planes showed a frustrating double standard.

Calls for better enforcement

Democrats on the committee called for greater enforcement of existing rules against unruly passenger behavior.

In about 40 percent of cases, no one on the plane alerts on-ground law enforcement of the incident, Nelson said.

Flight attendants often feel pressured to get to their next flight and don't feel their airlines will support them pausing to file a complaint, she said, noting United Airlines as an exception through a program that encourages attendants to file a police report.

Other cases of harassment don't necessarily rise to the level needed to involve police.

Andrews, for example, said he didn't alert law enforcement or the plane's captains of the incident he told the panel about because the passenger was not threatening.

The FAA adopted a zero-tolerance policy for unruly passengers in January, enabling the agency to skip warning letters and go straight to fines. It has issued $1.1 million in fines so far this year.

Nelson and Democrats on the panel called for greater criminal enforcement by the Justice Department and FBI as well.

Asked Thursday whether the Biden administration would support criminal prosecutions against unruly airline passengers, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki highlighted the recent move to double fines for those who refuse to comply with mask mandates.

“We're hopeful it will have an impact on people behaving in a safer way on flights," Psaki said.

House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) also raised the idea of banning to-go alcohol sales in airports and allowing airlines to share information on unruly passengers.

DeFazio said the FAA could coordinate a nationwide list of unruly passengers. Under the existing system, passengers banned by one airline have no restriction on flying with another.

Laura Olson contributed to this report.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Florida Phoenix maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Diane Rado for questions: info@floridaphoenix.com. Follow Florida Phoenix on Facebook and Twitter.

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