DOnald Trump and his congressional allies have relentlessly tried to bribe the Justice Department to help overturn the 2020 presidential election, according to former senior department officials, who testified before the House Committee on investigate the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol on Thursday. .
Three of the Justice Department leaders during the last chaotic weeks of the Trump administration headlined the committee’s fifth hearing, explaining the various ways they hijacked the efforts of the former president and his associates to using the agency as a pawn in Trump’s efforts to reverse Joe Biden’s victory.
Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified that Trump told him in a December 27, 2020 meeting, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the members of Congress. Republicans”.
While much of the hearing focused on the testimony of former department officials, one of the most striking moments came afterward, when the committee played taped testimony from the attorney for White House Eric Hershmann and a senior former chief of staff Mark Meadows, both of whom said several Republicans in Congress had sought presidential clemency after Jan. 6, including Representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida, Paul Gosar from Arizona, Andy Biggs from Arizona, Louie Gohmert from Texas, Scott Perry from Pennsylvania and Marjorie Taylor Greene from Georgia.
Previously, the committee had only named Perry as one of the congressmen who sought a pardon. Most lawmakers attended a Dec. 21, 2020 meeting at the White House where they discussed ultimate plans to block the transfer of power to Biden, including opposing the swing state electoral votes Biden won in Congressional certification of the Electoral College on January 6, 2021.
“The only reason I know to seek a pardon is because you believe you have committed a crime,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and a member of the Jan. 6 panel, which conducted the questioning Thursday.
While no such pardon has ever been disclosed, it is unclear whether Trump was able to grant clemency to any of the lawmakers in secret. Former US pardons lawyer Margaret Love told TIME that the president could have granted pardons to members of Congress without ever making them public or even informing the Justice Department.
The panel hearing focused largely on former Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Clark, whose efforts to exploit the nation’s top law enforcement agency to advance conspiracy theories without grounds on voter fraud quickly caught Trump’s attention. In December 2020, Trump and Clark lobbied for the DOJ to send Georgia election officials a letter that falsely claimed the department had “identified significant concerns” that would cast doubt on the state’s election results.
After Donoghue and other senior officials resisted pressure from Trump, the former president and several Republican members of Congress mobilized a campaign to replace then-acting attorney general Jeff Rosen with Clark. . They argued that Clark’s promotion would ensure that the Justice Department would use its authority to question the election result. Trump’s plan to install Clark in this role has come close enough to fruition that on January 3, 2021, the White House is already referring to him by this title, according to evidence presented by the committee.
When asked why Trump wanted Clark, Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s personal attorney, told committee investigators in recorded deposition that the thought was “someone should be in charge of the Justice Department who will not be afraid of what is going to be done”. to their reputation” in trying to reject the election results.
The only reason Clark was ultimately not promoted was because several senior Justice Department officials vowed to resign, according to testimony Thursday from Donoghue, Rosen and former assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel. “People tell me I should just get rid of you two and change direction,” Donoghue recalled telling them. “Put Jeff Clark in and something will finally do something.”
Donoghue said he responded by telling the president, “Every acting AG will step down.”
That same day, Engel said he had a three-hour meeting with Trump during which he told the president it would be wrong to fire Rosen for not wanting to lie to the American people about voter fraud. in the 2020 elections.
All of the witnesses who testified Thursday expressed serious concerns about Trump’s frequent communications with Clark throughout December 2020 and January 2021. Clark’s primary focus at the DOJ was the environment; he had no experience in electoral litigation. “How does the President even know Mr. Clark?” Rosen remembers wondering.
“You are an environmental lawyer,” Donoghue told Clark at one point. “How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.”
Other White House officials testified that they were alarmed by Clark’s plan to capitalize on the Justice Department’s credibility to nullify an election.
“When he was done discussing what he was planning to do, I said, ‘Okay, fuckin’ hole, congratulations, you just admitted that your first step or act you would take as a attorney general would commit a crime,'” Herschmann said. he told Clark, according to recorded testimony released Thursday. “The only thing you know about environmental and election challenges is that they both start with E,” he continued. “And I’m not even sure you know that.”
The committee also presented video evidence to show how Trump and Republican lawmakers lashed out at their supporters against the Justice Department, falsely claiming the department refused to investigate voter fraud. In an interview, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump why the DOJ wasn’t doing anything about his bogus voter fraud allegations. “Missing in action,” he said. Gaetz also gutted the agency at a conservative conference in December. And on the morning of January 6, Capitol rioters showed up outside the Justice Department building in Washington, chanting, “Do your job!
Panel members praised the witnesses for standing up to Trump and refusing to give in to the pressure campaign. Kinzinger asked Americans to think about what would have happened to the country if people with less integrity had been in office at the time.
“Imagine a future where the president could screen Justice Department candidates with a single question: Are you loyal to me or to the Constitution?” said Kinzinger. “It wouldn’t take long to find people willing to swear their loyalty to the man.”
Thursday’s hearing was the fifth to date. The next hearing was previously scheduled for Monday, but the committee announced this week that it is postponing the remaining hearings to July as it gathers new information and decides how to incorporate it into its final deliberations.
Although the panel originally scheduled six hearings, multiple sources told TIME that the panel was already planning to hold at least one additional hearing before releasing its final report. Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland, said the TV hearings have inspired more people to come forward.
Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming and vice chair of the committee, echoed the same sentiment on Thursday. “There’s a lot more evidence to come,” she said.
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