They Helped Trump Plan a Coup. He Wants Them Back for a Second Term
Jeffrey Clark and Michael Flynn were leading figures in Donald Trump’s efforts to carry out a coup d’etat in 2020 and 2021. The result was mob violence, deaths at the Capitol in Washington, D.C., an array of criminal investigations and lawsuits, and what one former senior Trump aide went on the record to call “the worst day for the Republican Party since Lincoln’s assassination.”
In any other era, scandals like that would be enough to send those men off into immediate political retirement. But this isn’t one of those eras.
Trump is now the clear frontrunner in the 2024 Republican primary and remains the leader of the GOP, and he’s been telling those close to him how much he wants both of those fellow coup plotters officially at his side in a potential second term in office.
The former president has privately noted on several occasions over the past several months how he’s seriously considering names like Flynn and Clark for high-level positions in a potential second White House term. That’s according to two sources with direct knowledge of the matter, as well as another person briefed on it. The two worked hard to overturn the election with Flynn lobbying the president to institute martial law, and then-President Trump hoping to fire the acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and swap in the more agreeable Clark.
In at least one of these conversations, Trump was self-aware enough to say that any senior role for Flynn would “probably” have to be a non-Senate-confirmed appointment, one of the sources with direct knowledge tells Rolling Stone. Flynn’s comments calling for martial law in the wake of the election prompted some Republicans, like Sen. Mitt Romney, to criticize him, potentially leaving any Senate-confirmable position effectively out of reach for the retired Army general.
“[Trump] has said he believes they are both ‘strong’ candidates for senior positions. He’s mentioned that, and some other names, a couple of times that I know of … We’ll see if it happens,” the other person with direct knowledge recalls. “President Trump calls Gen. Flynn a ‘hero’ all the time. Why wouldn’t he want a hero working for him?”
There are, of course, reasons why people not named Donald Trump wouldn’t want either of these men working for the leader of the GOP ever again.
“Bringing these two back into government in high-level positions would be tantamount to a declaration of authoritarian principles by a presidential administration. To even consider it would be disgraceful and anti-American,” says Walter Shaub, a senior ethics fellow at the Project on Government Oversight and the former director of the Office of Government Ethics.
In a statement to Rolling Stone, Trump campaign spokesman Steven Cheung wrote that “President Trump is running to drain the swamp and bring prosperity back to America. That’s why he’s dominating in the polls — both in the primary and general elections— and Americans are rallying around his campaign.”
Flynn, who famously invoked the Fifth Amendment when asked by the January 6th Committee whether violence at the insurrection was justified, is “unfit for public service” and “no one should ever place him in a position of trust again,” according to Shaub. “I’m surprised [Clark] is even still allowed to be a lawyer, much less a public servant.”
The moves are part of Trump’s professed inclination to make his theoretical second term something of a revenge tour to revive the people and policies that even some members of his own party deemed too extreme. Over the past year, Trump has mulled intensifying his first term’s historic federal “killing spree” with group executions, gallows, and firing squads, invading Mexico, and bringing back an expanded version of his “Muslim ban.”
He’s also doubling down on his attacks on the democratic system. Ever since the violent end of Trump’s presidency, the former president sought to turn his baseless propaganda about widespread election fraud into Republican Party dogma. In many cases, Trump has already succeeded, accelerating the right’s past crusades against voting rights. The fact that Trump is giving serious thought to bringing back figures such as Clark and Flynn also highlights how much Trump remains fixated on his lies about the 2020 presidential election — which led to the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot — and how unlikely he is to move on, if he gets another shot at running the country.
Clark, in particular, embodies that instinct. The former assistant attorney general from the Justice Department’s environmental division allegedly sprung into action in the wake of the 2020 election with ideas on how Trump and his administration could undermine it. In particular, he pushed Justice Department leaders to send a letter to the Georgia Legislature claiming that the department had discovered “significant fraud” and urged it to create alternate slates of electors. The effort — stopped by senior Justice Department leaders — would’ve effectively endorsed bogus conspiracy theories about election fraud and given an air of official legitimacy to efforts to overturn the election.
Clark’s devotion to the cause of Trump’s election lies almost landed him one of the most senior jobs in the former president’s first administration. Trump unsuccessfully tried to make Clark his new attorney general in the final weeks of his presidency. Today, Clark is a senior fellow at the Center for Renewing America, an increasingly influential, Trump-aligned think tank. He’s also a devoted poster on the president’s own social media network, Truth Social, where Trump shares his criticisms of former Attorney General Bill Barr being insufficiently dedicated to investigating claims of voter fraud in the 2020 electron.
Trump’s enthusiasm for Clark comes in spite of his mounting legal troubles, which are directly related to his and Trump’s schemes to subvert the democratic order. FBI agents searched Clark’s home and seized his phone as part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into efforts to subvert the 2020 election.
Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, played an outsized role in the Trump and other Republicans’ attempts to overturn the 2020 election and stop the count of electoral votes on Jan. 6. The retired Army lieutenant general was an early and loud voice calling for Trump to “declare limited martial law” and “temporarily suspend the Constitution” and lobbied the then-president to do so in a tense Oval Office meeting alongside Sidney Powell. As Trump’s legal options to overturn the election fizzled, Flynn supported the “Stop the Steal” movement and spoke at a rally for the group alongside Alex Jones and Ali Alexander the night before the insurrection in early 2021.
More recently, Flynn has devoted his time to speaking at the Christian nationalist “ReAwaken America Tour,” which has hosted a range of MAGA luminaries who attempted to overturn or challenge the election results, like pillow magnate Mike Lindell and attorney Powell.
Trump has continued to stay in touch with his former national security adviser since leaving office, calling in to his Christian nationalist prayer meetings, and even publicly hinted that there may be a job for him waiting in a future Trump administration. During a speech at a Republican gathering in Florida in April, Trump gave a shout-out to his former national security adviser, who was in attendance. Flynn, he told the audience, is “a friend of mine” who “went through hell” and “handled it like the brave man he is.”
“It’s only a year and a half,” Trump said. “Just stay healthy.”