Mr. Barr had resigned in December. But behind the back of the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, the president was plotting with the Justice Department’s acting civil division chief, Jeffrey Clark, and a Pennsylvania congressman named Scott Perry to pressure Georgia to invalidate its results, investigate Dominion and bring a new Supreme Court case challenging the entire election. The scheming came to an abrupt halt when Mr. Rosen, who would have been fired under the plan, assured the president that top department officials would resign en masse.
That left the congressional certification as the main event.
Mr. McConnell had been working for weeks to keep his members in line. In a mid-December conference call, he had urged them to hold off and protect the two Republican runoff candidates in Georgia from having to take a difficult stand.
When Mr. Hawley stepped forward, according to Republican senators, Mr. McConnell hoped at least to keep him isolated.
But Mr. Cruz was working at cross-purposes, trying to conscript others to sign a letter laying out his circular logic: Because polling showed that Republicans’ “unprecedented allegations” of fraud had convinced two-thirds of their party that Mr. Biden had stolen the election, it was incumbent on Congress to at least delay certification and order a 10-day audit in the “disputed states.” Mr. Cruz, joined by 10 other objectors, released the letter on the Saturday after New Year’s.
Mr. McConnell knew that Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, among the most conservative Republicans, had been planning to come out publicly against the gambit. Now the majority leader called Mr. Cotton, according to a Republican familiar with the conversation, and urged him to do so as soon as possible. Mr. Cotton quickly complied.
It was coming down to a contest of wills within the Republican Party, and tens of thousands of Trump supporters were converging on Washington to send a message to those who might defy the president.
The rally had taken on new branding, the March to Save America, and other groups were joining in, among them the Republican Attorneys General Association. Its policy wing, the Rule of Law Defense Fund, promoted the event in a robocall that said, “We will march to the Capitol building and call on Congress to stop the steal,” according to a recording obtained by the progressive investigative group Documented.