4 conclusions from Thursday, January 6 hearing: NPR

From left, Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Jeffrey Rosen, former acting attorney general, and Richard Donoghue, former acting attorney general, testify before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol on Thursday.

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From left, Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Jeffrey Rosen, former acting attorney general, and Richard Donoghue, former acting attorney general, testify before the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 attack on the US Capitol on Thursday.

Alex Wong/Getty Images

A president desperate to maintain power and embroiled in fringe internet conspiracies engaged in a multi-layered conspiracy, putting pressure on top Justice Department officials and seeking legitimacy for his electoral lies – facts be damned.

“Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” former President Trump said, according to testimony Thursday by Richard Donoghue, a former acting deputy attorney general, at the committee’s fifth hearing. on January 6th.

Donoghue, who took contemporary notes on that conversation, and several others with the former president, emphasized that it was an “accurate” quote. Trump made the remarks in the transition period between the 2020 presidential election he lost and the January 6 insurrection.

It was just one of many dramatic moments for the audience to paint – in vivid color – scenes that looked like they were straight out of a Hollywood political thriller.

But this was no movie.

It was the last days of the Trump presidency – and these hearings showed just how tenuous the rope that held American democracy was.

Here are four conclusions from the hearing:

1. The details of the pressure on the Justice Department showed Trump crossing all lines of department independence.

Justice Department officials serve the president’s pleasure, but presidential interference in investigations and the department’s inner workings has long been frowned upon in American tradition.

None of that seemed to matter to Trump, according to multiple witnesses on Thursday.

Trump called and met nearly every day after Election Day with senior Justice Department officials, peppering them with false allegations to investigate. But when he was told there was no evidence of conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, it wasn’t enough for him, witnesses said.

“We have an obligation to tell people that this was an illegal and corrupt election,” Donoghue remembered Trump telling him, his notes shown on the screen behind the committee members.

The clock was ticking for Trump, and the committee showed that Trump was a man who would do almost whatever it took to stay in power — and saw the Justice Department as an important vehicle.

He publicly disagreed with his attorney general, Bill Barr, who withdrew under pressure. Trump wanted Barr to appoint a special attorney. Conspiracy theorist attorney Sidney Powell testified on camera that Trump asked her to be that special adviser.

Trump leaned on the new interim attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, calling or meeting with him nearly every day with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Rosen testified. And Trump threatened to replace Rosen with someone who would act on your electoral lies.

2. If senior DOJ officials didn’t agree, Trump would find someone who would.

Trump threatened to put Jeffrey Clark, a low-level environmental lawyer at the DOJ, in the top job. Representative Scott Perry introduced Clark to Trump, and Clark was ready to do the Trump thing.

Clark was sneaking away from his superiors to meet with the president, violating departmental protocols, officials said. Clark wrote a letter urging state officials to take action to nullify the election, citing evidence that he had no problems with the vote.

“This other guy can do something,” Trump told Rosen, Rosen recalled, noting Trump’s frustration with Rosen for not pursuing his electoral lies as legitimate.

Donoghue, for the record, said he and others in the department have investigated each of Trump’s conspiracies. All were without merit, he said. He and Rosen both witnessed this and told Trump so – repeatedly correcting him “in a serial manner” as Trump moved from one claim to another.

Trump and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, even entertained a conspiracy theory that Italian satellites had been manipulated to shift votes from Trump to Biden. This went so far that, despite Donoghue calling the theory “sheer insanity” and “plainly preposterous”, Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, at Meadows’ request, called the Defense Attaché in Rome, who also brought down the conspiracy. .

Trump, however, thought there was something there. Because? “You may not be following the Internet the way I do,” Trump said, according to Donoghue’s notes.

Frustrated, Trump nearly appointed Clark as attorney general. He only backed down when Donoghue emphatically remarked at a high-pressure meeting in the Oval Office that he and many others would resign if Trump took such a drastic step.

“What do I have to lose?” Trump said at one point, by Donoghue. Donoghue tried to convince him that he, personally – and the country – had a lot to lose.

Donoghue told Trump that Clark’s promises were empty, that he could not deliver what Trump wanted and would do so in a matter of days, especially since the allegations had already been investigated — and proven to be false.

“It’s absurd,” Donoghue told Trump. “That won’t happen, and it will fail.”

3. Several members of Congress asked for pardon

Another striking element of Thursday’s hearing was the revelation that several right-wing Republican members of Congress, who were involved in one way or another on Jan. 6, have asked for pardon.

Several witnesses, including attorneys and White House officials, testified that at least five, perhaps six, Republicans asked for forgiveness — Representatives Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Scott Perry, R-Pa.

There was some doubt as to whether Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. asked for one too, as a White House official testified that she heard what Greene did but didn’t know firsthand. Greene denies that she asked for one.

All denied wrongdoing.

“The only reason I know of to ask for forgiveness is if you’ve committed a crime,” said Representative Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., who led the interrogation on Thursday.

Of course, it’s also possible that these members, so deeply enmeshed in conspiracy, in their minds, felt that a newly created Justice Department under a Democratic president would go after them.

“It’s not a crime to ask for forgiveness in the United States of America,” Representative Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the committee, told CNN after hearing his colleagues who asked for forgiveness. “Nobody can be prosecuted for that, but I think if we use our common sense, if we use our Tom Payn common sense, it would indicate some guilt conscience or some fear that you might be prosecuted for what you did.”

4. No one was too big or too small for Trump’s pressure campaign in his desperate bid to stay in power.

These five days of hearings revealed how far Trump would go to stay in power.

His pressure was relentless and multifaceted. And no one was immune, from high-ranking government officials like his vice president and senior Justice Department officials to others who did election implementation work, like Wandrea “Shaye” Moss.

Moss testified on Tuesday that his life was turned upside down, that his personal life was literally destroyed because of Trump’s unrestrained attempt to cling to the White House.

He has pressed hardworking local election officials, who normally receive no attention — let alone death threats — to acquiesce in the schemes he and those around him have concocted to bring down the American electoral system.

It must hurt Trump that it didn’t work, that for all his efforts, he didn’t. With all of this cast in a bright light, it will be remarkable to see how Americans move after this. Does Trump continue to wield the same kind of influence in the GOP or will he appear more vulnerable if he decides to run again in 2024?

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