Jess Bravin and Sadie Gurman for WSJ:
In his last weeks in office, former President Donald Trump considered moving to replace the acting attorney general with another official ready to pursue unsubstantiated claims of election fraud, and he pushed the Justice Department to ask the Supreme Court to invalidate President Biden’s victory, people familiar with the matter said.
Those efforts failed due to pushback from his own appointees in the Justice Department, who refused to file what they viewed as a legally baseless lawsuit in the Supreme Court. Later, other senior department officials threatened to resign en masse should Mr. Trump fire then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, according to several people familiar with the discussions.
Senior department officials, including Mr. Rosen, former Attorney General William Barr and former acting Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall refused to file the Supreme Court case, concluding that there was no basis to challenge the election outcome and that the federal government had no legal interest in whether Mr. Trump or Mr. Biden won the presidency, some of these people said. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and his deputy, Patrick Philbin, also opposed Mr. Trump’s idea, which was promoted by his outside attorneys, these people said.
“He wanted us, the United States, to sue one or more of the states directly in the Supreme Court,” a former administration official said. “The pressure got really intense” after a lawsuit Texas filed in the Supreme Court against four states Mr. Biden won was dismissed on Dec. 11, the official said. An outside lawyer working for Mr. Trump drafted a brief the then-president wanted the Justice Department to file, people familiar with the matter said, but officials refused….
Before the Texas suit was filed, a group of Republican state attorneys general spoke with Mr. Barr about getting the Justice Department to back the claim, particularly if the Supreme Court asked for the department’s views on the case, people familiar with the discussions said.
Mr. Barr consulted with Mr. Wall, who is the government’s advocate before the Supreme Court. Mr. Wall told Mr. Barr that Texas’s lawsuit was likely to fail because the state lacked legal standing to challenge other states’ administration of their own laws, the people said, accurately anticipating the grounds the Supreme Court ultimately cited in dismissing the case.
Mr. Barr told the Republican officials that the department couldn’t be counted on to support their legal claim if the Supreme Court sought its opinion, these people said.
Representatives of Mr. Paxton and the Republican Attorneys General Association couldn’t immediately be reached.
After the Texas case was dismissed on Dec. 11, Mr. Trump began pushing for the Justice Department to file its own lawsuit against the states directly in the Supreme Court, the people said. Frustrated that his wishes weren’t being implemented, Mr. Trump at one point planned to bypass the attorney general and telephone Mr. Wall directly, these people said.