Representatives’ committee hearing on January 6, Thursday afternoon, focused on what it said was a “rude attempt” on the part of then-President Donald Trump to abuse the Ministry of Justice for own political gain.
The panel heard from three former officials directly affected by Trump’s press campaign: former Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, former Deputy Prosecutor Richard Donoghue and former DOJ top lawyer Steve Engel, who all said they repeatedly told Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud were untrue.
All three men described in astonishing detail Trump and his allies’ desperate attempts to recruit the department in his plan to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden – culminating in a plan to replace Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, a less qualified but loyal official. , who headed the department’s environmental department.
It is Clark’s home in Virginia in particular that was raided by federal agents on Wednesday as the Department of Justice expands its investigation into a plan to send fake voters to Congress and the National Archives.
President Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., On Thursday characterized Trump’s press campaign against the DOJ – as well as his attacks on local election officials, then-Vice President Mike Pence and more – as “the inner workings of what was fundamentally a political coup.”
“He pressured the Department of Justice to act as part of his re-election campaign,” Thompson summed up in his closing statement. “He hoped law enforcement officials would give legitimacy to his lies so he and his allies had some credibility when they told the country the election was stolen.”
Here are some key points from Thursday’s hearing:
Trump’s demands included seizure of voting machines
Rosen and Donoghue shed light on an emergency meeting convened by a particularly “excited” Trump on New Year’s Eve, in which the president called on the department to seize voting machines from across the country.
Rosen said officials in the room said no.
“There was no factual basis, nor was there any legal basis to do so,” Rosen testified.
That was not the only request Trump made to the department before Jan. 6. He also wanted officials to send a lawsuit to the Supreme Court regarding election fraud, appoint a special lawyer to investigate alleged fraud and more, witnesses said.
One theory propagated by Trump was that Italian satellites had switched voices from him to Biden, which Donoghue described as “pure insanity.”
Rosen said the department rejected all of Trump’s claims because they “did not believe they were appropriately based on the facts and the law as we understood them.”
Excited meeting in the White House on January 3 on the ‘murder-suicide pact’
The second half of the hearing zoomed in on a critical White House meeting on January 3, 2021, when Trump refused to appoint Clark to head the Justice Department.
The committee showed a call log from the White House that already referred to Clark as the “acting Attorney General,” suggesting that Trump was already ready to hand over the Department of Justice to Clark before the meeting.
“What do I have to lose?” Trump pondered at some point in the meeting. Donoghue replied that it “was not in anyone’s best interest.”
All three living witnesses described threatening to quit if Clark was appointed, citing his lack of qualifications to serve in such a high-level role.
“I said, Mr President, within 24, 48, 72 hours you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations from the leadership of the entire Ministry of Justice because of your actions, what will that say about you?” said Angel.
Engel said at the time that the White House attorney stepped in to describe Clark’s appointment as a “murder-suicide pact.”
Scott Perry is a key figure in the DOJ’s press campaign
The committee outlined on Thursday what it said was the role of the rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., Played in the attempt to elevate Clark to attorney general as other officials in the department pushed back on Trump’s election, baseless allegations.
Perry was among the group of Republicans who met with Trump on December 21, 2020 on how to continue to challenge Joe Biden’s victory and press allegations of voter fraud.
The next day, Perry Clark presented to Trump at a White House meeting. Clark met with the president without the knowledge of his superiors, in violation of DOJ rules.
Perry also texted White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to help with Clark’s ascension. In a message that appeared during the hearing, Perry wrote, “Mark, it’s just checking in while time keeps counting down. 11 days to 1/6 and 25 days to the inauguration. We need to get started.”
Perry’s office continued to defend his actions, and his spokesman told ABC News Congressional Correspondent Rachel Scott on Thursday that “there is nothing new here.”
Clark was ready to inform Georgia officials that the DOJ was finding fraud
Clark was a key player in Trump’s attempts to get the Department of Justice to falsely claim election fraud in Georgia and other states.
A draft letter circulating by Clark asked Georgia’s governor and other top government officials to convene a state legislature for a special session to investigate allegations of voter fraud – fraud that former Justice Minister Bill Barr had already deemed unprofitable.
Donoghue said he and Rosen had “visceral reactions” to the draft document, adding that if it had been sent, it could have triggered a “constitutional crisis.”
Former White House attorney Eric Herschmann recalled what he said to Clark when he became aware of his plans.
“When he finished discussing what he was going to do, I said”[expletive], Congratulations. You just admitted that your first step you would take when AG would commit a crime, “Herschmann said.” “You are definitely the right candidate for this job.”
“I told Clark that the only thing he knew was that environment and choice both start with ‘e,’ and I’m not even sure you know that,” he added.
Trump: ‘Just say it was corrupt, and leave the rest to us’
By drawing from handwritten notes, Donoghue documented that Trump told him, “Just say the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.”
When Donoghue told Trump in a phone call on December 27, 2020 that he could not change the outcome of the election, he remembered that Trump “reacted very quickly – and said, ‘that’s not what I’re asking you to do – – I’m asking you just about to say it’s corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen, “Donoghue recalled.
He also said Trump told him that the Department of Justice was “obligated to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election,” despite officials repeatedly telling him that there was no widespread fraud and that Biden was the legitimate winner.
Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, stressed the seriousness of Trump’s request, saying, “The president wanted the top officials in the Justice Department to declare the election corrupt, even though, as he knew, absolutely no evidence to support this opinion. “
GOP members of Congress sought preventive pardons
Former White House officials described in tape footage how several Republican members of Congress called for “general pardons” in the last days of the Trump administration.
Among those listed by officials were reps. Perry, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Andy Biggs of Arizona and Louie Gohmert of Texas.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a top assistant to Meadows, added in her testimony that Gaetz had been asking for a pardon since “early December.” ABC News has previously reported on an ongoing DOJ investigation into sex trafficking allegations involving Gaetz.
Hutchinson also said she “heard” that rep. Georgia Marjorie Taylor Greene had requested pardon from White House attorney Pat Phillbin and said the rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio “talked about pardon” and asked for an update on whether the White House should pardon members of Congress, but did not directly ask for one as far as she knew.
John McEntee, a former Trump aide to the White House, testified that the idea of a “general pardon” was at one point brought to the forefront for all involved on January 6th.
One after another, Republican lawmakers dismissed the charges.
In a statement to ABC News, Brooks denied that pardons were “unnecessary after all,” and although Gaetz did not deny the allegation, he dismissed the committee in a tweet as a “political side show.”
Jordan called his involvement “100% fake news” in a tweet, and Perry’s spokesman called it “a ridiculous and soulless lie.” Greene called it “gossip and lies” and the committee a “witch hunt.”