The hearing began just hours after federal investigators looted the home of Jeffrey Clark, who was one of the key people in the Justice Department involved in Trump’s plans. He has denied any wrongdoing in connection with January 6th.
Here are takeaways from Thursday’s hearing.
Thursday’s hearing underscored the role that Trump’s Republican ally in Congress played in advancing his efforts to try to overthrow the election – and how many of them sought pardon after Jan. 6.
The House’s select committee focused especially on the efforts of the rep. Scott Perry, the Republican of Pennsylvania, who linked Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark to the White House in December 2020.
CNN has previously reported on the role Perry played, and the litigation committee released text messages that Perry exchanged with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about Clark.
“He wanted Mr. Clark – Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice,” Cassidy Hutchinson, a former Meadows assistant, said of Perry in a clip of her clarification that was played at Thursday’s hearing.
The committee also revealed new details about Republican members of Congress seeking pardon after Jan. 6, including Perry and reps. Mo Brooks of Alabama and Matt Gaetz of Florida.
“President Trump asked me to send you this letter. This letter is also at the request of Matt Gaetz,” said an email Brooks sent to the White House in January 2021, according to the committee. “As such, I recommend that the President grant general (all-purpose) pardons to the following groups of people.”
The email contained a group of the names of “every congressman and senator who voted to reject Electoral College ballots from Arizona and Pennsylvania.”
Thursday’s hearing was led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois who has largely been expelled from the Republican Conference for his role on the committee on January 6th.
“My colleagues up here also take an oath. Some of them failed to uphold theirs and instead chose to spread the big lie,” Kinzinger said before discussing pardons.
Kinzinger retires at the end of his term.
Inside an Oval Office meeting in December 2020
White House Attorney Eric Herschmann said Clark was repeatedly “crushed over the head” during the meeting. He told the committee he called Clark a “f — ing a – hole” and said his plans would have been illegal. He also said Clark’s plan to send letters to states on the battlefield was “distressed.”
“You’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill,” Donoghue said at the landfill, describing what he told Clark at the White House meeting.
Donoghue said the then White House lawyer, Pat Cipollone, called Clark’s plan a “murder-suicide pact.”
Donoghue himself described Clark’s plan as “impossible” and “absurd”.
“It’s never going to happen,” Donoghue said of the plan. “And it’s going to fail.”
Thanks to the setbacks of Rosen, Donoghue, Herschmann, Cipollone and perhaps others, Trump did not follow up with his plan, which would have put the country in unknown waters and would have increased the chances of Trump succeeding. coup attempt.
Italian satellites and seizure of voting machines: White House pushes for conspiracy theory
The three witnesses who testified Thursday made it clear that Trump had tried to use all the handles of the federal government to help validate his claim that the election was stolen and ultimately overturn the legitimate result in the run-up to the 6th January.
They described how top officials at the highest levels of government had been pressured to investigate conspiracy theories stemming from the fringes of the Internet, while Trump tried to confirm what were ultimately baseless allegations of widespread voter fraud.
Former Secretary of Defense Chris Miller even contacted a counterpart in Rome, at the request of the White House, to investigate a conspiracy theory that Italian satellites had changed votes from Trump to Joe Biden.
The conspiracy theory previously reported by CNN was among those that then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows pushed top heads of national security authorities to investigate was characterized as “pure insanity” by former Justice Department official Richard Donoghue, who also was asked to look at the allegation.
Former Justice Department officials also described how Trump himself had urged them and senior Department of Homeland Security officials to seize voting machines from state governments in the pursuit of the same – all without reason to take such an unprecedented step.
“Why don’t you just seize machines?” said Trump during a White House meeting in late December 2020, according to testimony from Donoghue.
Using the Department of Justice or any other federal agency to seize voting machines would have been an unprecedented step, but Trump made it clear that he wanted his allies to pursue it as an option.
“Get Ken Cuccinelli on the phone,” Trump shouted to his secretary, after Justice Department officials told him DHS had expertise in voting machines and determined there was nothing that warranted seizing them, according to Rosen.
Rosen confirmed Thursday that he had never told Trump that DHS could seize voting machines. CNN has previously reported that Trump pressured the Department of Justice and DHS to seize voting machines.
CNN has also previously reported that Trump allies had drawn up orders that would have prompted the military and DHS to seize voting machines if they had been signed by Trump – but in the end they were not.
A toned-down hearing contained a vivid description of Trump’s press campaign
Thursday’s cases included testimony from three lawyers describing behind-the-scenes incidents in the Department of Justice and the White House. It was a departure from Tuesday’s and previous hearings, which contained emotional testimony from election officials and included shocking video footage of the Capitol massacre.
But even if there were no rhetorical fireworks, the content of the testimony was crucial to understanding the breadth of Trump’s efforts to undermine the 2020 election. Former Justice Department officials described what they saw and heard as Trump tried to recruit them to help him stay in power – and how he tried to oust them when they refused to do his bidding.
The material was tight at times. Witnesses reconstructed White House meetings and phone calls with Trump. They were asked to dissect their handwritten notes of some of these interactions – something that is more common in criminal cases and less common in a congressional hearing.
Yet the steadfast testimony of witnesses sheds new light on events that we have known for more than a year. And the whole hearing evoked memories of the Nixon era because it was all about how a sitting president tried to arm the powers of federal law enforcement to help his political campaign.
Shocking raid of Clark’s home preceded the hearing
The raid by federal investigators of Clark’s home in northern Virginia preceded the revelations of Clark’s actions in 2020 during the hearing. Lawmakers were taken aback, but for the first time in a while, it looked like federal investigators might have listened to their public calls to finally take some action.
The raid took place on Wednesday, but was reported Thursday morning. It is unclear which government unit was behind the raid, and it is not publicly known what triggered the search of his home or what the investigators were looking for.
Even with these unanswered questions, it’s essential that federal investigators take such a blatant step – searching Clark’s home – toward one of the most prominent figures in Trump’s plans after the election.
The committee hoped to make Clark a household name Thursday by evoking testimony from top Justice Department officials about how he tried to abuse law enforcement powers to help Trump overturn the 2020 results in states he lost. With the raid, it seems that the committee got its wish.
This story has been updated with further developments on Thursday.