US legislators investigating the deadly riot at the United States Capitol on January 6, 2021 have turned their attention to the pressure President Donald Trump exerted on the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election.
The House committee on Thursday held its fifth public hearing this month, once again laying out what it knows about Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the US presidential election he lost to Joe Biden.
This time, the hearing focused on Trump’s attempt to get the Department of Justice to “legitimise his lies” about electoral fraud, panel chair Bennie Thompson said.
“When these and other efforts failed, Donald Trump sought to replace Mr [Jeffrey] Rosen, the acting attorney general, with a lawyer who he believed would inappropriately put the full weight of the Justice Department behind the effort to overturn the election,” Thompson said.
Here is a look at five key takeaways from the fifth public hearing this month:
‘Just say the election was corrupt,’ former US official says Trump told him
The panel featured a handwritten note by former US Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, in which he quoted Trump as saying: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
Donoghue confirmed to the panel that the statement was an exact quote from Trump.
Donoghue said the Justice Department looked into various claims but did not find any instances of fraud that would have come close to changing the election results. The department communicated that to Trump, he added.
“There were isolated instances of fraud; none of them came close to calling into question the outcome of the election in any individual state,” Donoghue told the US legislators.
Trump contacted Justice Department daily on fraud claims, Jeffrey Rosen testifies
Former acting US Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified on Thursday that Trump contacted him daily in the weeks before the Capitol riot and “asserted that he thought the Justice Department had not done enough” to investigate his false claims of voter fraud.
“Between December 23 and January 3, the president either called me or met with me virtually every day, with one or two exceptions, like Christmas Day,” Rosen, who held the post in the final days of the Trump administration, told the committee.
Rosen said Trump raised the prospects of having a special counsel for election fraud, holding a meeting with his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, filing a lawsuit in the US Supreme Court, and making a public statement on the fraud claims, among other things.
“I will say, the Justice Department declined all of those requests … because we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them,” Rosen said.
Trump’s team floated naming Jeffrey Clark as attorney general to overturn vote
The panel said it has been examining efforts to install former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general to help overturn the election.
Legislators and witnesses argued that Clark was not qualified for the position and was only suggested because he would have backed Trump’s fraud claims.
In a video from his testimony to the committee, Giuliani said: “I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation.”
Donoghue said Republican Congressman Scott Perry, of Pennsylvania, mentioned Clark during a call on December 27 in which Perry raised claims of voter fraud in the state. “At the outset of the call, Congressman Perry said he was calling at the behest of the president,” Donoghue told the panel.
“He said something to the effect of, ‘I think Jeff Clark is great and I think he’s the kind of guy who can get in there and do something about this stuff.’ And this was coming on the heels of the president having mentioned Mr Clark in the afternoon call earlier that day.”
Donoghue also testified on Thursday that Trump appeared to threaten to fire him along with acting Attorney General Rosen for refusing to back his baseless election fraud claims. “He said, ‘People tell me I should just get rid of both of you. I should just remove you and make a change in the leadership, put Jeff Clark and maybe something will finally get done,’” Donoghue said.
He recalled telling Trump in response: “Mr President, you should have the leadership that you want, but understand the United States Justice Department functions on facts, evidence and law.
“And those are not going to change, so you can have whatever leadership you want, but the department’s position is not going to change.”
Take a look at what Attorneys General – Democrats and Republicans alike – have said about sticking to their oaths to the Constitution: pic.twitter.com/PmFz54LsP4
— January 6th Committee (@January6thCmte) June 23, 2022
Draft letter at heart of Clark’s effort to undo Trump election loss: Panel
A draft letter by Clark and his adviser, Ken Klukowski, falsely alleging election fraud that was set to be sent to the Georgia state legislature emerged at the heart of Thursday’s hearing.
“Had this letter been released on official Department of Justice letterhead, it would have falsely informed all Americans, including those who might be inclined to come to Washington on January 6, that President Trump’s election fraud allegations were likely very real,” the committee’s co-chair Liz Cheney said.
Donoghue said Clark emailed him and Rosen the draft letter on December 28. “It was so extreme to me [that] I had a hard time getting my head around it initially,” Donoghue testified.
Donoghue said he told Clark that “for the department to insert itself into the political process this way … would have had grave consequences for the country. It may very well have spiralled us into a constitutional crisis, and I wanted to make sure he understood the gravity of the situation”.
Clark has declined to say whether he discussed his Justice Department draft letter with Trump. In a video from his testimony to the committee, Clark invoked the Fifth Amendment and “executive privilege” to avoid answering questions.
“Fifth and executive privilege again, just restated for the abundance of caution,” he told the panel.
Republican legislators requested pardons: Ex-Trump White House official
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, told the committee during an interview that Republican Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Mo Brooks “advocated for there to be a blanket pardon” in relation to January 6.
“Mr Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon and he was doing so since early December. I’m not sure why,” Hutchinson told the panel, according to a video of her testimony played during Thursday’s hearing. “Mr Gaetz had reached out to me to ask if he could have a meeting with Mr Meadows about receiving a presidential pardon.”
Asked if other lawmakers contacted her about pardons, Hutchinson said Congressmen Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, and Scott Perry also did. Congressman Jim Jordan “talked about congressional pardons, but he never asked me for one. It was more for an update on whether the White House was going to pardon members of Congress”, she said.
Hutchinson added that Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, a top Trump ally, asked White House counsel for a pardon.
“The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” House committee member Adam Kinzinger said on Thursday.