Much of the hearing centred on a little-known and inexperienced department lawyer called Jeffrey Clark who had taken an active role in pushing Trump’s election fraud lie – and who Trump, in turn, had wanted to install as head of the department.
Clark drafted a letter to members of the Georgia state legislature claiming there were irregularities in the vote and suggesting that state politicians convene to select their own slate of electors to hand Trump a win.
“We have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the State of Georgia,” the draft letter said without offering evidence.
Rosen and Donoghue had refused to sign the letter, while top White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told the committee in a recorded deposition the plan would be tantamount to “committing a felony”.
Donoghue testified that he warned Clark that what he was doing would have “grave consequences for the country” and could lead to a “constitutional crisis.”
“I wanted to make sure that he understood the gravity of the situation because he didn’t seem to really appreciate it,” he said.
Nonetheless, Clark persisted, backed by Trump allies such as Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani previously told the committee in recorded evidence that he wanted an official in charge of the department “who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation”.
The pressure campaign on the department came to a head at a heated meeting at the White House on January 3 – three days before the Capitol insurrection – when Trump met with Rosen, Donoghue and Steven Engel, another senior department official who was working as a lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel.
By that stage, Trump had already offered Clark the role of acting attorney-general. According to Rosen’s testimony, the president opened that meeting by saying: “One thing we know is you, Rosen, aren’t going to do anything. You don’t even agree with the claims of the election fraud and this other guy might actually do something.”
Rosen said he told Trump: “Mr President, you’re right. I’m not going to allow the Justice Department to do anything to try to overturn the election, that’s true, but the reason for that is because that’s what’s consistent with the facts and the law.
“That’s what’s required under the Constitution. So that’s the right answer and a good thing for the country, and therefore, it’s the right thing for you, Mr President.”
Trump ended up backing down on his attempt to install Clark after Rosen, Donoghue, and Engel, threatened to resign and warned that many of the department’s lawyers would also quit en masse, sending shockwaves through the bureaucracy and sparking yet another political crisis.
“I said: Mr President, within 24, 48, 72 hours there’s going to be hundreds of resignations to the leadership of your Justice Department, because of your actions,” Donoghue testified. “What is that going to say about you?”
Engel, who is an important figure due to his longstanding loyalty to Trump, also issued a similar warning, telling the leader: “I can’t be a part of this”.
He also warned Trump about the optics, telling him in that meeting: “The story is not going to be that the Department of Justice has found massive corruption that would have changed the election. It’s going to be the disaster of Jeff Clark.”
Clark pleaded the Fifth Amendment more than 125 times when the committee tried to question him about his role in the attempt to subvert the election.
However, in a sign that federal investigators may be starting to close in on people within Trump’s orbit, the FBI raided Clark’s home in Virginia on Wednesday in connection with a Justice Department inquiry – separate to the January 6 probe – into the effort to overturn the election.
Among the observers in the room for this hearing was Hollywood actor Sean Penn, who sat with current and former police officers to watch proceedings.
There are two more expected public hearings into the attack, which left several people dead, about 150 police officers injured and a nation divided.
They were due to wrap up by the end of this month however the committee announced this week that it would stretch its schedule into July following a trove of fresh evidence.
Among it is potentially explosive footage from documentary-maker Alex Holder, who had full access to Trump and his family before and after the insurgency. There are also new documents from the National Archives and a flood of new tips that have come in during the first round of hearings.
This may result in additional public hearings followed by a final report in September, two months before the crucial midterm elections.
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