On the evening of January 3, 2021, a group of top Justice Department officials stopped then-President Donald Trump from installing an ally to take over the Justice Department and enact a plan that Trump may illegally come to power. loved, according to testimony Thursday before the Jan. 6 committee of the House.
Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and two of his top deputies, Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, have detailed the pivotal showdown where they stopped a lower-ranking environmental attorney, Jeffrey Clark, from pressuring state lawmakers to send fake voters to Washington as part of of Trump’s attempt to reverse his 2020 election loss — an attempt by lawmakers on the Jan. 6 commission have called a coup attempt.
“I think if the department had entered the political process in this way, it would have had serious consequences for the country. We may very well have entered a constitutional crisis,” Donoghue told members of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Behind the scenes, Clark had moved up from overseeing the Justice Department’s civil division to Trump’s choice to take over as the nation’s top prosecutor in the final days of his administration, after others, including a former attorney General William Barr had bluntly told Trump he had lost the election and his theories about voter fraud were groundless.
In late December 2020, a few days after a small group of Trump lawyers, including Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, met Trump and urged him to focus his efforts on disrupting the final certification of Joe Biden’s January 6 victory, said Representative Scott Perry, R-Pa., began pitching Trump about elevating Clark to head the DOJ and investigating his false claims, according to testimony at Thursday’s hearing.
Clark had a clandestine meeting at the White House with Trump on Dec. 26, 2020, according to testimonies, and began conducting witness interviews and requesting information from Trump’s director of national intelligence about internet rumors of foreign governments allegedly voting would change.
Trump himself continued his press campaign to convince Donoghue and others that the election had been stolen from him. In a Dec. 27 appeal, Trump argued to Donoghue, “You may not follow the internet like I do,” Donoghue said.
On Dec. 28, according to testimony, Clark drafted a letter on DOJ letterhead with the intent to send it to the disputed states, urging them to vote for Biden and send voter lists to Washington that would throw the election at Trump.
Donoghue testified that when he first received the letter via email from Clark, he felt compelled to respond immediately to make it clear that “this was not the department’s role, but more importantly, this was not factual.” based. This was contrary to the facts.”
The jockeying of Trump and his allies to take over the DOJ and surround his own officials culminated in a showdown in the Oval Office on a cold Sunday in Washington.
“I wanted to try and convince the president not to go down the wrong path that Mr. Clark seemed to be advocating,” Rosen testified on Thursday.
Donoghue showed up for the White House meeting a few minutes late after rushing. He tried to find a seat on one of the benches just outside of Trump’s direct line of sight, across from the president’s desk, but Trump beckoned him to sit directly across from him and the other DOJ officials found a seat for him.
After just under two weeks, Clark was ready to take on the role of acting attorney general and lead Trump’s bid to hold the White House. A White House call log from that day listed Clark as “acting attorney general,” although Rosen still served in that role.
Trump “looked at me and he underlined, ‘Well, all we know is you’re not going to do anything,'” Rosen told Trump during the meeting.
“You do not agree that the concerns expressed are justified. And here’s someone who has a different opinion, so why shouldn’t I?’” Rosen quoted Trump, referring to possibly replacing Rosen with Clark.
Clark “repeatedly told the president that if he was put in the chair, he would conduct real investigations that would expose widespread fraud,” Donoghue said. Clark promised, according to Donoghue, that he would continue the investigation “in whatever manner the president saw fit.”
But Trump’s own White House adviser, Pat Cipollone, fought vigorously against Trump against sending an official message to the states urging them to carry out the fake voter plot.
“That letter this man wants to send, that letter is a murder-suicide pact, it will hurt anyone who touches him. And we shouldn’t have anything to do with it,” Cipollone said during the meeting, per Donoghue.
As Trump asked the group for their thoughts, each man said he would resign if Trump installed Clark. Another group of assistant attorneys general who called in also said they would resign en masse if Trump installed Clark.
“It was at that point in the conversation that Engel pointed out that Jeff Clark would be running a graveyard,” Donoghue said.
Donoghue recalled knocking out Clark, an environmental attorney, at the meeting by saying he was not qualified to head the Justice Department. Donoghue said, “‘How about going back to your office and we’ll call you if there’s an oil leak.'”
Clark sat for an interview with the House Jan. 6 committee but repeatedly argued for Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. On Wednesday, federal agents raided Clark’s home in Virginia.