The Jan. 6 committee will hear from former Justice Department officials who have faced a relentless campaign of pressure from Donald Trump over the 2020 presidential election results, while quelling a bizarre challenge from within their own ranks.
Thursday’s hearing will draw attention to a memorable period of turmoil in the department as Trump, in his final days in office, sought to bend his will to a law enforcement agency that has long prized its independence from the White House. The testimony is intended to show how Trump not only relied on outside aides to press his election fraud allegations, but also tried to leverage the powers of federal executive branch agencies.
Witnesses will include Jeffrey Rosen, who was acting attorney general during the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Three days earlier, Rosen was part of a tense showdown in the Oval Office in which Trump considered replacing him with a lower-level official, Jeffrey Clark, who wanted to defend Trump’s allegations of election fraud.
Two other former employees of the department, Rosen’s top deputy Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, are also expected to testify. Both warned Trump at the White House meeting that they would resign and that many of the department’s lawyers would follow if he replaced Rosen with Clark.
Following the testimony of several Republican officials in the lead-up to the January 6 Capitol riot, the testimony of a mother and daughter team of former election officials stands out. Ruby Freeman and her daughter Shaye Moss opened up to Congress about the threats that supporters of then-President Donald Trump made to them and their family simply for doing their job — and it was “a moving, heartbreaking, heartbreaking testimony,” says Deputy Vice President Donald Trump. Insider editor Dave Levinthal.
“You can have a situation here, within 24 hours, you have hundreds of people resigning from the Department of Justice,” Donoghue told Trump. “Is this good for anyone? Is it good for the department? Is it good for the country? Is it good for you. Is not.”
Only then did Trump relent. The night, and later his administration, ended with Rosen still in power.
The hearing is the fifth this month by the committee investigating the run-up to the Capitol Hill uprising, when Trump supporters stormed the building as lawmakers certified the results of the election won by Joe Biden. Witnesses included police officers attacked on Capitol Hill, as well as lawyers, a television executive and local election officials who resisted demands to change the results in Trump’s favor.
Last week, the committee presented video testimony from former Attorney General William Barr, who criticized Trump’s fraud allegations as “silly”, “false” and “idiots” and resigned after failing to convince the president of that.
Thursday’s hearing will focus on what happened next when Rosen, Barr’s top deputy, took over the department and found himself immediately surrounded by Trump’s demands for Justice Department action.
In a phone conversation, according to handwritten notes made by Donoghue and made public by lawmakers last year, Trump directed Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and congressmen.”
At Thursday’s hearing on the Capitol riot, Representative Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.) called January 6 a “legal scheme in deception.”
At that time, Trump was introduced by a Republican congressman, Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, to Clark, who joined the department in 2018 as its lead environmental attorney and was later appointed to run its civilian division. Clark was previously subpoenaed by the committee to testify, but will not be among the witnesses on Thursday.
Clark, according to statements by other Justice Department officials, has met with Trump despite being ordered not to do so by department heads and has come forward eager to help the president’s efforts to contest the election results. A report released last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee that described Clark as a tireless Trump supporter included a draft letter urging Georgia officials to call a special legislative session to reconsider the election results.
Clark wanted the letter sent, but superiors at the Justice Department refused.
The situation came to a head on Sunday, January 3, 2021, when Clark informed Rosen in a private meeting at the Department of Justice that Trump wanted to replace him with Clark as acting attorney general. Rosen, according to the Senate report, responded that “there was no universe I could imagine this would happen in” and that he would not accept being fired by a subordinate.
Rosen then contacted the White House to request a meeting. That night, Rosen, Donoghue and Engel, along with Clark, met with Trump and top White House lawyers for a controversial, hours-long meeting in the Oval Office on whether the president should follow through on his plans for a radical leadership change. in the department.
According to Rosen’s testimony, Trump opened the meeting by saying, “One thing we do know is that you, Rosen, are not going to do anything to overturn the election.”
Donoghue and Engel made it clear to Trump that they and a large number of other Justice Department officials would resign if Trump fired Rosen. White House lawyers said the same. Pat Cipollone, then a White House attorney, at one point said that the letter Clark wanted to send was a “murder and suicide pact.”
“Steve Engel at one point said, ‘Jeff Clark will be leading a cemetery. And what are you going to do with a cemetery,’ so there’s an exodus of leadership,” Donoghue told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So it was very strong for the president that this would happen.”
Donoghue also tried to dissuade Trump from believing that Clark had the legal basis to do what the president wanted, as he was not the department’s criminal prosecutor.
“And he kind of snapped back by saying, ‘Well, I’ve done a lot of very complicated appeals and civil litigation and environmental litigation and things like that,’” Donoghue said. “And I said, ‘That’s right. You are an environmental advocate. How about you go back to your office and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.’”