Photo: Michael Reynolds/EPA
Donald Trump relentlessly pressured top Justice Department officials to make baseless claims of voter fraud in an extraordinary but ultimately failed attempt to stay in power, according to testimony from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 uprising , which was heard on Thursday.
Three former Justice Department officials in office during Trump’s final weeks told the commission the then-president was “adamant” that the election had been stolen, despite being repeatedly told that none of the vote count allegations were credible. used to be.
Related: Barr feared Trump might not have left office if DoJ hadn’t debunked fraud claims
The panel’s chairman, Congresswoman Bennie Thompson, opened the hearing, saying the hearing would show the former president “wanted to take advantage of the Justice Department as part of his plan to stay in power.”
“Donald Trump didn’t just want justice to investigate,” Thompson said. “He wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies, to basically call the election corrupt.”
After exhausting his legal options and being rejected by state and local election officials, the panel said a desperate Trump turned to the Justice Department to declare the election corrupt despite there being no evidence of mass voter fraud, it will nine-member panel trying to demonstrate in their fifth and final hearing of the month.
Witnesses from the Cannon Caucus Room on Capitol Hill include Jeffrey Rosen, the former Acting Attorney General; Richard Donoghue, the former Acting Deputy Attorney General; and Steven Engel, the former assistant attorney general for the legal counsel’s office.
In one of Trump’s near-daily conversations with the agency leader, Rosen told the president that the Justice Department “can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of an election.”
“I don’t expect you to,” Trump snapped, according to Donoghue, whose handwritten notes from the exchange were shown on a large screen during the hearing. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
At the center of Thursday’s hearing was Jeff Clark, a junior official in the department embracing Trump’s myth of stolen elections. At the urging of Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Scott Perry, Trump considered replacing Rosen with Clark, an environmental attorney by profession.
“What was his only qualification?” Congressman Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and member of the committee leading the interrogation, asked rhetorically. “He would do whatever the president wanted him to do, including toppling free and fair democratic elections.”
The panel voted unanimously to disparage Clark for Congress after he failed to cooperate with the investigation. He later appeared before the committee, but he repeatedly asserted his right to the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
Just before the hearing began, it was revealed that federal investigators searched Clark’s home earlier this week, according to a person familiar with the case and not authorized to speak publicly.
In new testimony to the commission’s taped statement with Bill Barr, the former attorney general said he felt it was important for the department to investigate and ultimately disprove Trump’s false claims about voter fraud. If not, Barr said he shuddered at the thought of what could have happened. “I’m not sure we would have had a transition at all.”
In previous clips played by the commission, Barr said he told Trump in no uncertain terms that his allegations of voter fraud were “bullshit.” At one point during his statement, Barr burst out laughing as he explained how absurd some of the theories were, including one allegedly orchestrated by Hugo Chávez, the Venezuelan leader who died in 2013.
The commission is building the case that Trump was at the heart of the sprawling conspiracy that led to the Jan. 6 violence — a lie that has only spread in the months since a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol with pipes, bear spray, and Confederate flags. Nine people died in the attack and its aftermath.
The public hearings are the culmination of a year-long investigation into the violence on January 6 and the events that led to it. The commission heard more than 1,000 witnesses and collected more than 140,000 documents. But it continues to gather new evidence.
Thompson told reporters this week that the commission had received “a lot of information,” including documentary footage of Trump’s last months in office. It also plans to speak with Ginni Thomas, the conservative activist and wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, who was in close contact with Trump’s chief of staff in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol.
The committee said it would resume public hearings in July, with at least two more sessions scheduled. Those hearings are expected to detail how extremist groups like the Proud Boys planned the attack on Congress and how Trump failed to stop the violence when it erupted on Jan. 6.
“These efforts were not a small or ad hoc venture that was made up overnight,” said Congresswoman Liz Cheney, the panel’s Republican vice chair. “Any planning and coordination required. They were all under President Trump’s supervision.”