WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump sought inside help from the Justice Department to run his campaign to undo the 2020 election, according to evidence presented Thursday by the House Committee on Jan. 6.
“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump pleaded with senior Justice officials in a Dec. 27, 2020 conversation, commemorated in the contemporaneous notes of then-Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue .
After Donoghue and then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen repeatedly rejected pressure from Trump, they testified on Thursday that he threatened to replace Rosen with Jeff Clark, an inexperienced loyalist who drafted a letter claiming the election results was questionable and urged states to approve slates from false voters.
That letter amounted to a “murder-suicide pact” that “would harm anyone who touches it,” White House attorney Pat Cipollone said during an intense Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3, according to multiple witnesses. In that same discussion, held three days before the official voter count in Congress, Trump weighed the pros and cons of placing Clark in the Justice Department to ensure the letter would be sent to critical states. are sent.
Trump’s treatment of justice officials represents part of an emerging historic record that committee members say proves he orchestrated a sprawling campaign to invalidate his defeat. At the same time as he was trying to arm the Justice Department, Trump’s campaign attorneys pressured state officials to reverse the results and organizing slates of false voters†
Ever since the Watergate scandal, most presidents have worked on a laissez-faire approach to the Justice Department, allowing the agency to operate independently and as apolitically as possible. But during his tenure, Trump ignored those standards and tried to treat the agency as his own legal department.
“It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda,” committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Thursday.
At the Jan. 3 meeting — just three days before voters’ official certification in Congress — Trump grappled with whether he needed to make a change at the top of the department.
“What have I got to lose?” he asked.
But the conversation took place at a time when he was trying to exude strength and stability. He was told by advisers that there would be an embarrassing wave of layoffs at the Justice Department if he put Clark in charge. Advisers told him that Clark – who was in the room – was not authorized to run the agency.
Trump conceded. Clark was not promoted. The letter was never sent.
But Trump’s bid to hire the best law enforcement officials in the country fits the commission’s case that he intended to use all available tools — regardless of laws, standards or precedents — to defy voters and rise to power. to hold on.
Clark has become a central figure in the investigation around January 6. Federal agents visited Clark’s house Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the US law firm. In a statement, Russ Vought, a former Trump administration official and Clark’s employer at the Center for Renewing America, criticized the “raid” as political.
Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, led Thursday’s questioning of three witnesses: Rosen, Donoghue and former assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel Steven Engel.
The panel has already aired recorded testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who said he told Trump in December 2020 that the election had not been stolen. Barr, who had said in an interview with The Associated Press that the Justice Department had discovered no evidence of fraud, resigned before the year was up.
During the four previous public hearings, the commission presented evidence — through documents and witness statements — about the physical attack on the Capitol, informing Trump that he had lost, Trump’s attempts to subjugate then Vice President Mike Pence and state officials. his bid to prevent Joe Biden from coming to power, and his team’s plan to replace official voters from seven states with slates of “fake voters.”
In an earlier hearing, Representative Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., promised to name the lawmakers who had asked Trump for a pardon in the waning days of his presidency. The committee delivered Thursday and played tapes of testimonies about Rep. Matt Gaetz to get a broad pardon from Trump.
A federal grand jury is investigate whether Gaetz, R-Fla., has committed crimes in connection with a sex trafficking case. He has denied all wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime.
The committee also disclosed that it had received evidence several other Republican lawmakers had filed for pardons: Representatives Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.
Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., asked for a pardon for lawmakers — including himself — who voted against certifying voters, according to testimonies.
It’s not yet clear whether the hearings will have a significant effect on public opinion about Trump’s role in the January 6 uprising or his suitability for office, but some committee members say they are seeing signs of a shift against the former president.
“There are a lot of people on the fringes, especially in the Republican Party and elsewhere, who didn’t know the full story,” Kinzinger told NBC News in an interview. “And now that they’re seeing the full story, they’re really impressed by it, and how close we got and how brutal this attempt to change the election was.”