By Ross Colvin
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The fifth day of congressional hearings on Jan. 6, 2021, the attack on the US Capitol by supporters of Donald Trump heard the then-president pressure the Justice Department to help him rise to power to stay after he lost the 2020 election.
The selected House of Representatives committee investigating the attack received testimonies from three former top executives of the department — then Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue and then-head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel.
Here are takeaways from Thursday’s hearing:
TRUMP Tried To Fire His Acting Solicitor General
Trump was frustrated by what he saw as the Justice Department’s inaction to investigate or validate its false claims of voter fraud.
Between December 23, 2020 and January 3, 2021, Trump called or met Rosen almost every day as his attempts to stay in power became more urgent. He wanted Rosen to take several avenues, including appointing a special counsel to investigate suspected electoral fraud.
When Rosen told Trump at a rally on December 27 that the Justice Department couldn’t just snap and change the election outcome, Trump quickly replied, “All I’m asking you to do is just say it was corrupt.” and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Donoghue recalled.
Jeffrey Clark, an environmental attorney for the Trump-supporting Justice Department, was instrumental in Trump’s efforts to use the department to reverse his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Clark met Trump several times in the Oval Office without the knowledge of White House adviser Pat Cipollone or the Justice Department leadership, bypassing the normal chain of command and angering Rosen.
On January 3, 2021, Clark told Rosen that Trump had offered him the position of attorney general and that he would accept. Rosen sought an urgent meeting with Trump at the White House, along with Donoghue and Engel, to talk him out of it.
Donoghue testified that he told Trump that the entire departmental leadership would resign in hours if he fired Rosen. Trump turned to Engel and asked if he would quit too, to which Engel replied that he would and that Clark would “continue to run a graveyard.”
The last comment seemed to prompt Trump to backtrack from his plan, Donoghue said.
NEW YEAR’S MEETING
Rosen and Donoghue attended a meeting with the president at the White House on New Year’s Eve, where Trump asked why the Justice Department had not seized voting machines that Trump supporters claimed had been manipulated to steal the election.
Rosen said his department had no legal authority to make that move, a response that didn’t sit well with Trump, Donoghue recalled.
Rosen told Trump that the Department of Homeland Security had investigated the matter and found nothing wrong with the voting machines.
At the end of the meeting, Trump said, “People are telling me to get rid of both of you.”
Donoghue told Trump, “Mr. President, you should have the leadership you want. But understand the functions of the US Department of Justice in terms of facts, evidence and legislation. And they will not change.”
THE ‘MURDER Suicide’ LETTER
Clark has drafted a letter to be sent to state lawmakers in some Republican-controlled states, including Georgia, with the aim of casting doubt on Biden’s election gains.
The letter alleged that the Justice Department was concerned about election results in multiple states. By the time it was written, the department had already determined that no widespread fraud had taken place.
“Donald Trump offered Mr. Clark the position of acting attorney general to replace Mr. Rosen, on the understanding that Mr. Clark would send this letter and take other action requested by the president,” said Representative Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the committee.
The letter was never sent after Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign it. Cipollone, White House counsel, said the letter was so poisonous it should never be seen again because if ever made public it would be a “murder-suicide.”
Trump urged Justice Department officials to investigate a baseless internet-based conspiracy theory that an Italian defense contractor uploaded software to a satellite that switched Trump’s votes to Biden.
Rosen said the conspiracy theory propagated by a former US intelligence officer had been debunked.
Republican Congressman Scott Perry texted Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to ask him, “Why can’t we just work with the Italian government?”
Then-Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller appealed to the U.S. military attaché at the embassy in Italy to open an investigation, the commission said, citing it as an example of how Trump used the government’s machinery to defend his government. pursue their own personal goals.
At least five Republican allies of Trump’s Congress asked for a pardon from the White House after backing his efforts to reverse his 2020 election defeat, witnesses told the committee.
In video testimonials, White House officials said representatives Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert and Scott Perry sought a pardon who could have vaccinated them against prosecution.
US Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the Democrat-led committee who has endured a deluge of criticism from his party members, offered a scathing joke, telling the committee: “The only reason I know of asking for a pardon is because you think you have committed a crime.”
In a statement, Brooks said he had filed for a pardon over “a concern that Democrats would abuse the justice system by prosecuting and incarcerating Republicans.”
(Written by Ross Colvin; Reporting by Doina Chiacu, Moira Warburton, Sarah N. Lynch, and Rose Horowitch; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)