Lawmakers investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol on Thursday exposed Donald Trump’s “brazen” efforts to recruit the Justice Department into his plan to reverse his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
In the fifth hearing of its year-long investigation into the insurgency, the House of Representatives panel detailed Trump’s pressure on officials as part of his campaign to falsely claim his presidency was handed to him. stolen by widespread electoral fraud.
“Donald Trump didn’t just want the Justice Department to investigate. He wanted the Justice Department to help him legitimize his lies, baselessly labeling the election as corrupt,” committee chairman Bennie said. Thompson.
Lawmakers revisited tensions between government lawyers the weekend before the Jan. 6, 2021, uprising, when Trump tried to install his own man at the top of the department.
“It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda,” Thompson said.
The committee heard from Jeffrey Rosen, who became acting attorney general after Bill Barr resigned, and quickly found itself at the center of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the election.
Highlighting the intensity of Trump’s pressure on the department, Rosen said that in late December 2020 and early January 2021, the president contacted him almost daily.
“At one point he had raised the issue of having a special advocate for election fraud. On several occasions he requested that I meet with his campaign attorney, Mr. (Rudy) Giuliani,” Rosen said.
“At one point he asked if the Department of Justice would take legal action to the Supreme Court. At a few points there were questions about the possibility of making public statements or holding a press conference. “
The DOJ pursued a barrage of voter fraud allegations from Trump, but Rosen said officials had not received any evidence.
At that point, Trump began raising a little-known mid-level official named Jeffrey Clark, who embraced the incumbent president’s debunked theories.
– Oval Office clash –
Clark prepared a letter for the Georgia Assembly, the hearing said, saying the department found evidence of widespread voter fraud, but other officials refused to sign it. Other letters had also been prepared for other States.
Trump’s White House attorney Eric Herschmann told the committee in a videotaped deposition that he told Clark his plan would amount to “committing a felony.”
Trump considered installing Clark as attorney general over Rosen and asking Clark to reverse the department’s finding that there was no evidence of fraud that could influence the election.
But Trump was forced to back down by a rebellion in the department’s upper ranks during a Jan. 4 Oval Office meeting detailed by witnesses.
Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue, another senior official named Steven Engel and White House attorney Pat Cipollone threatened to resign en masse, warning they would take a string of top federal prosecutors with them if Trump continued his plan.
“I pointed out that Jeff Clark wasn’t even qualified to serve as attorney general. He was never a criminal lawyer. He never conducted a criminal investigation in his life,” Donoghue recalls telling Trump.
Donoghue said he told Clark, “You’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you if there’s an oil spill?”
Interviewed live, Donoghue confirmed he pushed back against Trump when the then-president insisted the department could just “say the election was corrupt” and “leave the rest to me.”
In a coda that made headlines for the case, federal investigators searched Clark’s home on Wednesday.
The U.S. attorney in Washington did not comment on the reason for the action, but the Center for Renewing America, where Clark works, confirmed the raid, calling it a “weaponization of government.”
To add to the drama, Hollywood actor Sean Penn was at Thursday’s hearing as a guest of former police officer Michael Fanone, who was seriously injured on January 6 and testified last year about his ordeal.
“I’m just here to observe, just another citizen.” Penn told reporters, adding that he had been following the hearings.
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