dDonald Trump and his allies in Congress tried relentlessly to corrupt the Justice Department to undo the 2020 presidential election, according to former top officials of the department, who testified before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol. . †
Three Justice Department leaders have topped the commission’s fifth hearing during the last, chaotic weeks of the Trump administration, explaining the various ways they are investigating the efforts of the former president and his associates to use the agency. as a pawn in Trump’s efforts to undo Joe Biden’s victory.
Former Deputy Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified that Trump told him in a Dec. 27, 2020 meeting, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
While much of the hearing focused on the testimonies of former Department officials, one of the most notable moments came after that, when the committee broadcast the taped testimony of White House attorney Eric Hershmann. and a top aide to former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, both of whom said several Republicans in Congress filed for presidential pardons after Jan. 6, including representatives Matt Gaetz of Florida, Paul Gosar of Arizona, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
Previously, the committee had only named Perry as one of the members of Congress who had asked for a pardon. Most lawmakers attended a Dec. 21, 2020 meeting at the White House where they discussed last-ditch plans to block the transfer of power to Biden, including objecting to the electoral votes of decisive states that Biden won during the Electoral College congressional certification on Jan. 6. 2021.
“The only reason I know of asking for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” Illinois Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger and a member of the Jan. 6 panel that led Thursday’s questioning.
While such clemency has never been revealed, it’s not clear whether Trump secretly granted clemency to any of the lawmakers. Former US Pardon attorney Margaret Love told TIME the president could have pardoned members of Congress without ever publishing them or even notifying the Justice Department.
Much of the focus of the panel’s hearing was on former Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Clark, whose efforts to exploit the nation’s best law enforcement agency to spread baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud quickly brought him to the attention of the public. Trump brought. In December 2020, Trump and Clark urged the DOJ to send a letter to Georgia’s election officials, falsely saying that the department had identified “significant concerns” that would question 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 current acting attorney general, Jeff Rosen, with Clark. They argued that promoting Clark would cause the Justice Department to use its authority to question the election results. Trump’s plan to install Clark in that role came close enough that the White House already referred to him by that title on January 3, 2021, according to evidence presented by the committee.
When asked why Trump wanted Clark, Rudy Guiliani, Trump’s personal attorney, told the committee’s investigators in a recorded statement that the thought was that “someone should be put in charge of the Justice Department who will not be afraid of what’s going to happen to their reputations” by working to get rid of the election results.
The only reason Clark ultimately wasn’t promoted was because several top Justice Department officials pledged to resign, according to testimony Thursday from Donoghue, Rosen and former assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel Steven Engel. . “People are telling me to fire you both and change leadership,” Donoghue recalls Trump telling them. “Put Jeff Clark in there and something will finally be done.”
Donoghue said he responded by telling the president, “Any acting AG will walk away.”
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 being unwilling to lie to the American people about voter fraud in the 2020 election.
All witnesses testifying on Thursday expressed serious concern about Trump’s frequent communications with Clark in December 2020 and January 2021. Clark’s main focus at the DOJ was on the environment; he had no experience with electoral procedures. “How does the president know Mr. Clark anyway?” Rosen remembered wondering.
“You’re an environmental lawyer,” Donoghue told Clark at one point. “How about going back to your office and we’ll call you if there’s an oil leak.”
Other White House officials testified that they were alarmed by Clark’s plan to take advantage of the Justice Department’s credibility to nullify an election.
“When he finished discussing what he intended to do, I said, ‘Okay, damn it, congratulations, you just admitted that your first step or act you would take as Attorney General would be a crime'”, said Herschmann. he told Clark, according to the taped testimony that aired Thursday. “All you know about environmental and election challenges is that they both start with an E,” he continued. “And I’m not even sure you know that.”
The committee also presented video evidence showing Trump and Republican lawmakers inciting their supporters against the Justice Department, falsely claiming that the Department refused to investigate voter fraud. In an interview, Fox Business anchor Maria Bartiromo asked Trump why the DOJ did nothing about its false claims of voter fraud. “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 in front of the Justice Department building in Washington and chanted, “Do your job!”
Panel members praised the witnesses for standing up to Trump and refusing to yield to the campaign of pressure. Kinzinger asked Americans to think about what would have happened to the country if people with less integrity were in their positions at the time.
“Imagine a future where the president could screen candidates for the Justice Department with one question: Are you loyal to me or to the Constitution?” said Kinzinger. “It wouldn’t take long to find people willing to pledge their loyalty to the man.”
Thursday’s hearing was the fifth so far. The next hearing was previously scheduled for Monday, but the committee announced this week that it would postpone the remaining hearings to July as it gathers new information and decides how it will feed into its final proceedings.
Although the committee had initially scheduled six hearings, multiple sources told TIME that the panel already plans to hold at least one more hearing before the final report is released. Rep. Maryland Democrat Jamie Raskin said the televised hearings have inspired more people to come forward.
Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican 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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