by Eric Tucker
WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump chastised the Justice Department for pushing his false election fraud claims, trying in vain to enlist top law enforcement officials in his desperate bid to remain in power and the Oval Office. I was warned of mass resignation, only then trusted. To testify Thursday to the House panel investigating the Capitol riots on January 6, 2021.
Three Trump-era Justice Department officials have repeatedly lashed out at the president, including instructions to pursue baseless allegations that the election won by Democrat Joe Biden was plagiarized. He said he brushed aside each demand from Trump because there was no evidence of widespread fraud, then banded together when the president weighed in on whether to replace the department’s top lawyer with a lower-level official who could see the consequences. Willing to help undo it.
A fifth hearing this month by a panel probing the attack on the Capitol clarified that Trump’s massive pressure campaign targeted not only statewide election officials but also his own executive branch agencies. Witnesses seriously described the frequent contact with the president as an extraordinary breach of protocol, especially since the Justice Department has long cherished its independence from the White House and shunned partisan politics in investigative decisions.
“When you damage our fundamental institutions, it’s not easy to fix them,” said acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in the final days of the Trump administration. “So I thought that was a really important issue, to make sure the Justice Department was able to stay on the right track.”
The hearing focused on a memorable time in the department following the departure of Attorney General William Barr in December 2020, which attracted Trump’s displeasure with his public announcement that there was no evidence of fraud that could have changed the election results. He was replaced by his top deputy, Rosen, who said that for a period of about two weeks after taking the job, he was either met or called upon by Trump almost every day. The general theme, he said, was “about the dissent being made by the Justice Department to investigate election fraud.”
Richard Donoghue, another top official who testified on Thursday, said Trump presented the department with an “arsenal of allegations,” none of them true. Still, Trump at various points implored the department to confiscate voting machines, appoint a special counsel to investigate fraud claims, and declare the election corrupt.
The department did none of these.
“For the department to involve itself in the political process in this way, I think there will be dire consequences for the country that could land us in a constitutional crisis,” Donoghue said.
Testimony clarified that Trump, however, found a willing ally inside the department in the form of an environmental enforcement attorney who would become the leader of the agency’s civilian division. The attorney, Jeffrey Clark, was introduced to Trump by a Republican congressman in late December and framed himself for championing the claims of election fraud. In a controversial Oval Office meeting on the night of January 3, 2021, just three days before the election, Trump toyed with replacing Rosen with Clark, but backed out amid threats of mass resignation,
Clark’s name was referred to early and frequently at hearings, with Rep. Adam Kizinger, an Illinois Republican and committee member, ridiculing him as a lawyer whose only merit was his allegiance to Trump. A lawyer for Clark did not return messages seeking comment.
“Who is Jeff Clarke?” Kinzinger asked rhetorically. “He would do what the president wanted him to do, including overthrowing a free and fair democratic election.”
Barely an hour before the trial began, it was revealed that federal agents searched Clark’s Virginia home on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss the matter by name and on condition of anonymity. But talked. It was not clear what the agents were asking for.
The latest hearing focused less on violence at the Capitol than on Trump’s legal push to undo the election results. In a phone conversation, according to handwritten notes taken by Donoghue and highlighted by Thursday’s hearing, Trump instructed Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and R. Congressmen.”
Around that time, Trump was introduced to Clark by a Republican congressman, Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, who joined the department in 2018 as its chief environmental counsel and was later appointed to run its civic division. Had gone. Clarke has been summoned by the committee but was not among the witnesses on Thursday. Lawmakers on Thursday had videotaped a video showing him repeatedly exercising his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Perry’s name surfaced later at the hearing, when the committee played videotaped statements of Trump aides saying that he and several other Republican members of Congress sought a pardon from the president that would protect him from criminal prosecution, the testimony revealed. walked.
Perry and fellow GOP reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Matt Getz of Florida and Louis Gohart of Texas were all involved in attempts to negate the election tally or submit a “fake voter.” Getz tweeted Thursday that the hearing was a “political side”.
The situation became critical on Sunday, January 3, 2021, when Clark informed Rosen in a private meeting at the Justice Department that Trump intended to replace her with Clark as acting attorney general. Rosen, opposed to the idea of being fired by a subordinate, testified that he contacted senior Justice Department officials to rally them together. He also requested a White House meeting.
That night, he showed up at the White House in what would be a dramatic, hours-long meeting focused on whether Trump should follow through with his plans for a radical leadership change in the department. Also there were Steven Engel, another senior Justice Department and Rosen aide who testified on Thursday, and Clark.
At the start of the meeting, Rosen testified on Thursday, “The president turned to me and he said: ‘One thing we do know is you, Rosen, you’re not going to do anything. You’re a part of election rigging. Don’t even agree with the claims and this man can at least do something.”
Donoghue made it clear to Engel that he would resign if Trump replaced Rosen with Clark. Trump asked Engel if he would do the same, and Engel replied that absolutely he would because he would be left with no choice.
The President withdrew. Night, and later his Republican administration, ended with Rosen at the helm of the Justice Department.
Donoghue also sought to restrain Trump from assuming that Clark had the legal background the president wanted because he was not a criminal prosecutor in the department.
“And he responded by saying, ‘Well, I’ve done a lot of complicated appeals and civil litigation, environmental litigation, and things like that,'” Donoghue said. “And I said: ‘That’s right. You’re the environmental lawyer. How can you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.'”
Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro, Marie Claire Jalonik and Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.
For full coverage of the January 6 hearing, visit