The House selection committee’s fifth hearing, which will investigate Jan. 6, Thursday focused on how then-President Trump tried to abuse the Justice Department to convince states and courts that there was widespread electoral fraud.
Led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), along with Committee Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the hearing included testimony from top Justice Department officials demonstrating the exhaustive effort of Trump in detail to get the department to embrace internet conspiracy theories, explaining how close the president came to installing an official whose main qualification was his allegiance to Trump.
Here are some key points from the hearing:
GOP Congress members sought pardon
Several Republican members of Congress sought presidential pardons before Trump left office, moves that suggest elected officials who embraced and perpetuated the so-called Big Lie had at least some concern that their involvement could land them in legal trouble.
In a Jan. 11 email obtained by the committee, Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) “at the request of Matt Gaetz” that Trump “grant a general (all intent) pardon” to “every congressman and senator who voted to reject the electoral college ballots of Arizona and Pennsylvania.”
“The general tone was, ‘We could be prosecuted for defending the president’s views on these matters,'” former White House attorney Eric Herschmann told investigators in a recorded statement. “I’m sorry about” [Gaetz] was discussing applications was as broad as you can describe from the dawn of time to today for all things.”
In all, Trump White House officials told the committee that the list of members of Congress seeking a pardon were representatives of Rep. Brooks, Gaetz (R-Fla.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), and Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also talked about pardons, according to Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. But Jordan never asked for a pardon for herself, Hutchinson told the researchers.
“It was more for an update on whether the White House would pardon members of Congress,” she said.
Trump’s “conference friends,” as Kinzinger described them, sought pardon because “they knew everything they were doing was a lie, and it was wrong.”
Just say it was corrupt,” Trump told the Justice Department
Trump seemingly reached a point in his failed bid to undo the 2020 presidential election where he didn’t care if the Justice Department was able to corroborate his campaign’s claims of fraud. He just wanted the department to cast enough doubt in the election to let his GOP allies in Congress do their part to keep him in office.
Trump requested a meeting with Justice Department leaders Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue on Dec. 15, 2020, after learning that Rosen would become acting attorney general with Donoghue as his deputy. Rosen testified that between December 23, 2020 and January 3, 2021, Trump called or met him “practically every day, with one or two exceptions, such as Christmas Day.”
Rosen and Donoghue testified at Thursday’s hearing, saying Trump was becoming increasingly persistent that the Justice Department was not doing its job. They said they repeatedly kept him away from online conspiracy theories and requests to appoint special counsel for election fraud, meet with his campaign adviser, file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court and send a letter to state lawmakers alleging fraud. was committed during the elections.
When Donoghue informed the president that the Justice Department could not change the outcome of an election, he said Trump responded quickly.
“That’s not what I’m asking you to do,” Trump said, according to Donoghue, who took notes during the conversation. “All I’m asking you to do is say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen. … We have a duty to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election.”
Of course the election was free and fair, and Joe Biden won the electoral college vote along with the national popular vote by the millions.
Trump came incredibly close to appointing an environmental attorney as acting attorney general, but a group of White House and Justice Department officials finally agreed to meet him. After attorney, Jeffrey Clark, told Rosen that he had offered and accepted the president’s offer to serve as acting attorney general, Rosen requested a meeting with the president.
That meeting on Sunday, January 3, 2021 in the Oval Office was attended by Rosen, Donoghue, Clark, assistant Atty. Gene. Steven Engel, Herschmann and two attorneys from the White House law firm. The goal was to determine if there should be a leadership change in the department.
Clark told the chamber that he would conduct investigations that would reveal widespread fraud if he took over the department, and that he would send a letter he drafted claiming that the Department of Justice was “investigating several irregularities in the 2020 election.” and “significant concerns that could have affected election results in multiple states.”
“I said, ‘Okay, [expletive]† Congratulations,’” Herschmann told the researchers. “You have just admitted that your first step or act as Attorney General would be a crime. … You are clearly the right candidate for this job.’”
In reality, Justice Department officials testified that Clark had no support whatsoever within the Oval Office.
“I made the point that Jeff Clark is not even qualified to serve as attorney general,” Donoghue told investigators. “He’s never been a criminal defense attorney. He has never done a criminal investigation in his life. He has never stood before a grand jury, let alone a trial jury.”
When Clark exposed his experience with complex litigation and civil and environmental disputes, Donoghue said, “That’s right. You are an environmental lawyer. Go back to your office and we’ll call you if there’s an oil leak.’
White House attorney Pat Cipollone described the letter Clark wanted the Justice Department to send as a “murder-suicide pact” that “would harm anyone who comes into contact with it,” Donoghue recalled.
Herschmann called Clark’s proposal “crazy” and joked that “all you know about environmental and election challenges is that they both start with an E, and based on your answers tonight I’m not even sure.” whether you know that.’
Justice Department officials told the president they would resign if Clark was tapped to head the department, and they said a wave of other department leaders would follow.
“Within 24, 48, 72 hours you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations from the leadership of your entire Justice Department because of your actions,” Donoghue told the president. “What’s that going to say about you?”
“No one is going to read this letter,” Engel reminded Trump. “Everyone will think you went through two attorney generals in two weeks until you found the environmentalist who signed this thing. And so the story will not be that the Justice Department has found massive corruption that would have changed the outcome of the election. It’s going to be Jeff Clark’s disaster.”
Donoghue intervened, noting, “Steve [Engel] pointed out that Jeff Clark would continue to run a graveyard, and that comment clearly had an impact on the president: the leadership would be gone; Jeff Clark would run a graveyard.”
Perry pushed Clark for Attorney General
Perry, Greene and other members of Congress met Trump in the Oval Office on December 21, 2020. According to White House visitor logs, Perry took Clark to the White House the next day. Perry later told a local news station that Trump had requested an introduction to Clark, so he agreed.
Two days later, Rosen began his first official day as acting attorney general. He recalled a “peculiar reference” during a Christmas Eve conversation with Trump that lasted about 15 or 20 minutes.
In that call, Trump continued to claim that the election had been stolen and that there was widespread fraud. Trump said the Justice Department should do more and casually asked if he knew Clark or who he was.
“I told him I did, and then the conversation just continued,” Rosen said. “But when I hung up, I wondered how the President even knows Mr. Clark? I was not aware that they had ever met or that the president had been involved in any of the issues in the civil division.”
Clark was acting chief of the civil division and chief of the Department of Justice’s environment and natural resources division, neither of whom had a role in investigating election fraud.
In a statement, Trump attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani told investigators, “I remember telling people that someone should be put in charge of the Department of Justice who isn’t afraid of what will happen to their reputation. because Justice was full of such people.”
Hutchinson, Meadows’ assistant, told investigators that Perry “wanted Mr. Clark, Mr. Jeff Clark, to take over the Justice Department.”
On December 26, 2020, Clark was “apologetic” and “repentant” in a meeting with Rosen and Donoghue, telling them he would notify them if anyone asked him to attend another such meeting.
That same day, however, Perry Meadows pushed into text messages to elevate Clark to the Justice Department.
Donoghue warned that Clark’s draft memo could have “amazing constitutional, political and social ramifications for the country,” telling Clark. “What you are doing is nothing less than the US Department of Justice meddling in the results of the presidential election.”
In what was described as a “controversial” meeting between Clark and the two top department officials, Clark continued to advance his views, including calling witnesses and conducting investigations himself.
Towards the end of a meeting with Trump, the president said people had told him to “get rid of” Rosen and Donoghue and promote Clark.
“Maybe something will finally be done,” Trump said, according to Donoghue, who said he responded this way: “Mr. President, you should have the leadership you want. But understand the functions of the United States Department of Justice in the field of facts, evidence and law, and they won’t change, so you can have any leadership you want, but the position of the department doesn’t change.”