White House officials pushed Atlanta’s top federal prosecutor to resign before Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoffs because President Trump was upset he wasn’t doing enough to investigate the president’s unproven claims of election fraud, people familiar with the matter said.
A senior Justice Department official, at the behest of the White House, called Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney Byung J. Pak and told him he needed to step down because he wasn’t pursuing vote-fraud allegations to Mr. Trump’s satisfaction, the people said.
Mr. Pak resigned abruptly on Monday—the day before the runoffs—saying in an early morning email to colleagues that his departure was due to “unforeseen circumstances.”
The pressure on Mr. Pak was part of Mr. Trump’s weekslong push to try to alter presidential election results favoring President-elect Joe Biden, which included his win in Georgia. Mr. Trump this week, following the U.S. Capitol riot, said he would leave office on Jan. 20 when Mr. Biden is inaugurated.
Recently departed Attorney General William Barr has said the Justice Department hadn’t found evidence of widespread voter fraud that could reverse Mr. Biden’s victory, including claims of fraud, ballot destruction and voting-machine manipulation.
Dozens of state and federal court decisions also have rejected efforts by Mr. Trump and his supporters. And Congress formally certified Mr. Biden’s Electoral College victory on Thursday, after a violent pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and forced a delay in the process.
The White House and the Justice Department didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment. Mr. Pak didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Mr. Pak’s resignation came one day after the public release of the audio of a Jan. 2 call in which Mr. Trump had urged Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to overturn the November election results. Mr. Trump told Mr. Raffensperger in the roughly hourlong call that the Georgia Republican could face legal action and said he should find nearly 12,000 votes of five million cast to reverse Mr. Biden’s victory in the state.
Mr. Raffensperger rejected pressure to further investigate an election, telling the president, “The challenge that you have is that the data you have is wrong.”
The president also complained on the call that Mr. Pak was a “never Trumper.”
Georgia conducted recounts that didn’t change the outcome. Mr. Raffensperger and other Georgia officials investigated various allegations and found no evidence of widespread fraud.
It isn’t known whether the Justice Department official’s call to Mr. Pak took place before or after the Raffensperger recording was made public.
When a U.S. attorney leaves the post, the No. 2 official in the office usually takes over on an interim basis until a new top prosecutor is named. In this case, Mr. Trump bypassed that typical process and immediately named the U.S. attorney in the Southern District of Georgia, Bobby Christine, to assume the job in an acting capacity. Atlanta falls in the Northern District of Georgia, and there is a separate Middle District in the state.
Mr. Christine declined to comment.
Mr. Christine, a Trump appointee, assumed the post by a written order of the president on Monday, Jan. 4, the same day as Mr. Pak’s resignation.
Mr. Trump also personally called a staffer in the Georgia secretary of state’s office and demanded it produce proof of election fraud, an official at the Georgia secretary of state’s office said on Saturday. The president made that call in December before separate outreach to Mr. Raffensperger.
An official at the Georgia secretary of state’s office on Saturday said the White House called officials and staff at the office for weeks demanding proof of election fraud—long before the call to Mr. Raffensperger.
“They were desperately trying to find evidence for lawsuits that were about to be thrown out of court,” the Georgia official said. “They kept telling us that, ‘You need to give us the evidence’ and the truth is there isn’t any evidence to give.”
The Georgia official said staffers were worried when they heard Mr. Pak had resigned, fearing the White House would put in people to investigate them. “Retaliation was very much a concern,” the official said.
The Washington Post earlier Saturday reported the phone call between Mr. Trump and the secretary of state staffer.
Federal Bureau of Investigation agents in Atlanta also found the allegations of election fraud in the state lacking and didn’t see a need to pursue them, people familiar with the matter said. The FBI’s Atlanta office declined to comment.
Mr. Trump’s call to Mr. Raffensperger came as the president and his supporters since November had pushed to overturn the election results in Georgia, including through public attacks on the state’s Republican governor and other officials by Mr. Trump, his lawyer Rudy Giuliani and others.
On the call with Mr. Raffensperger, Ryan Germany, the secretary of state’s general counsel, told the president: “What we are seeing is not at all what you are describing.”
At one point on the weekend call with Mr. Raffensperger, in which Mr. Trump repeatedly complained about supposed irregularities in Fulton County, which includes most of Atlanta, Mr. Trump apparently referred to Mr. Pak, saying: “I mean, you have your Never Trumper U.S. attorney there.”
Colleagues and associates of Mr. Pak said they had viewed Mr. Pak as a proud and early supporter of Mr. Trump, who nominated him to his post in July 2017. Mr. Pak thanked the president by name at his swearing-in ceremony after the Senate confirmed him to the post two months later, and again in the brief statement he released on his resignation. “I am grateful to President Trump and the United States Senate for the opportunity to serve, and to Attorneys General (Jeff) Sessions and (William) Barr for their leadership of the department,” Mr. Pak said.
Mr. Pak had been interviewing with law firms in recent months, and had lined up a job in the private sector, but had planned to stay in the post through the end of Mr. Trump’s term, people familiar with Mr. Pak’s plans said.
Aruna Viswanatha, Sadie Gurman, Cameron McWhirter
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