High drama as Jan. 6 hearing details Trump’s effort to corrupt Justice Department
Written by ABC Audio on June 24, 2022
(WASHINGTON) — Thursday’s hearing of the Jan. 6 committee focused on the pressure then-President Donald Trump and his allies put on the Justice Department to help overturn the 2020 election.
Jun 23, 5:56 pm
Previewing next hearing, chair calls Jan. 6 attack ‘backup plan’ in a ‘political coup’
Summing up the hearing, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Trump continuing to push the lie of a stolen election and pressure his officials to break the law was “about protecting his very real power and very real fragile ego — even if it required recklessly undermining our entire electoral system by wildly casting faceless doubt upon it.”
“In short, he was willing to sacrifice our republic to prolong this presidency. I can imagine no more dishonorable act by a president,” he said.
Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., closed by previewing the focus of hearings to come in July, calling the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol Trump’s “backup plan of stopping the transfer of power” if he couldn’t get away with a “political coup.”
“We are going to show how Donald Trump tapped into the threat of violence, how he summoned a mob to Washington and how — after corruption and political pressure failed to keep Donald Trump in office — violence became the last option,” he said.
Jun 23, 5:42 pm
Trump considered ‘blanket pardons’ for everyone involved in Jan. 6
In a taped deposition, former director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office John McEntee said he witnessed Trump having conversations about the possibility of a “blanket pardon” for all those involved in Jan. 6.
When asked by the committee if Trump thought about pardons for his family members, McEntee said Trump had hinted at a blanket pardon “for all the staff and everyone involved” before he left office.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger responded to that by saying, “The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you have committed a crime.”
Jun 23, 5:45 pm
Trump WH officials testify which GOP representatives asked for presidential pardons
In a series of stunning taped testimony, former White House officials said several Republican members of Congress — including Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Scott Perry, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Andy Biggs, Rep. Paul Gosar, and Rep. Mo Brooks — asked the White House for pardons in some form in the final days of the Trump administration following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“Every Congressman and Senator who voted to reject the electoral college vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania,” read an email from Brooks, requesting pardons for himself, Gaetz and others involved in election objections.
Former aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson, also said Rep. Jim Jordan talked with the White House about pardon updates for members of Congress but did not specifically ask.
“The general tone was, we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of, you know, the president’s positions on these things,” recalled former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.
“I know he had hinted at a blanket pardon for the January 6 thing for anybody, but I think he had all the staff and everyone involved, not January 6, but just before he left office,” said former Trump White House aide John McEntee in a taped deposition. “I know he had talked about that.”
“The only reason I know that you ask for a pardon is that you think you committed a crime,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.
Jun 23, 5:15 pm
Official recalls asking DOJ head of national security to stay on amid mass resignation planning
Former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue illustrated how serious discussions were of mass resignations at the Justice Department as Trump threatened to replace his attorney general with a lower-level official who supported his plan to overturn the election, describing his fears of the potential impact that it could have in the final days of Trump administration.
Donoghue said he pleaded separately with the head of DOJ’s national security division, John Demers, to not be among those who would resign.
“I prefaced the call by saying, ‘John, we need you to stay in place. National security is too important and we need to minimize the disruption,'” Donoghue said in the hearing.
Donoghue said while Demers showed a willingness to resign, he agreed with Donoghue’s assessment, as they imagined what would happen to the nation’s top law enforcement agency should all the top officials resign.
“As Steve Engel noted, the goal was to make clear to Trump he would leave Clark leading a “graveyard,” a comment that “clearly had an impact on the president,” Donoghue said.
Jun 23, 5:13 pm
Trump on trying to change DOJ leadership: ‘What do I have to lose?’
While discussing whether to fire a top official in the Department of Justice in a 2.5 hour meeting at the Oval Office on Jan. 3, 2021, Trump turned to officials in the room and asked them a question, former deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue testified Thursday.
“What do I have to lose?” Trump asked, according to Donoghue.
“It was actually a good opening,” Donoghue said. “And I began to explain to him what he had to lose, and what the county had to lose and what department had to lose, and this was not in anyone’s best interest.”
Donoghue said no one in the room supported Jeffrey Clark taking over as the department’s top official, describing him to the president as unqualified. Clark at the time was a Trump-appointed Justice Department official overseeing the department’s Civil Division and environmental enforcement matters.
Jun 23, 5:08 pm
Former DOJ leader tells Trump that attorneys general across US would resign ‘en masse’
According to call logs displayed by the committee, the White House had already begun referring to Jeffrey Clark as “acting attorney general” on Jan. 3, 2021 — despite Jeff Rosen, who wouldn’t fall in line with election fraud conspiracies, actually serving as acting attorney general.
Trump also met with the aforementioned officials in the Oval Office on Jan. 3, and said, according to Rosen, “‘Well the one thing we know is you’re not gonna do anything. You don’t even agree that the concerns that are being presented are valid. And here is someone who has a different view, so, why shouldn’t I do that?'”
Former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue recalled asking attorney generals across the country what they would do if Clark was put in charge.
“All essentially said they would leave,” he told the panel. “They would resign en masse if the president made that change in the department leadership.”
Jun 23, 4:54 pm
Inside GOP Rep. Scott Perry’s role in the DOJ pressure campaign
A hard-right conservative member of the House and leader of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., has been one of Trump’s most loyal supporters in Congress.
As the Jan. 6 committee laid out Thursday, that support continued after the 2020 election, when he was among the Republicans who met with Trump at the White House on Dec. 21, 2020, on how to continue challenging Joe Biden’s victory and push claims of voter fraud.
The next day, Perry introduced Jeffery Clark to Trump in a White House meeting. Clark did not work on election issues at the Justice Department, and he met with the president without the knowledge of his superiors in violation of DOJ rules.
“So, for criminal matters, the policy for a long time has been the only the attorney general in the deputy attorney general from the DOJ side can have … conversations with the White House,” Jeffrey Rosen, the then-acting attorney general, told the committee.
Why was Clark recommended? Here’s how Rudy Giuliani explained it, in his recorded interview with the committee: “I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what is going to be done to their reputation.”
Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general at the time, said Perry wanted Clark to “take over” the Justice Department, and pushed Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff and his former House colleague, to make it happen.
-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel
Jun 23, 4:46 pm
Trump, in emergency meeting, urged DOJ to seize voting machines, former officials say
Former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and his former deputy Richard Donoghue described Thursday how Trump tried to get the Department of Justice to seize voting machines in late 2020.
Donoghue said an “agitated” Trump called an emergency meeting on New Year’s Eve to make the request.
“There was nothing wrong with them so we told him no,” Rosen told the committee. “There was no factual basis nor was there any legal authority to do so.”
“Toward the end of the meeting, the president, again, was getting very agitated,” Donoghue recalled. “And he said, ‘People tell me I should just get rid of both of you, I should just remove you and make a change in leadership, put Jeff Clark in, maybe something will finally get done.’”
Jun 23, 4:37 pm
DOJ attorney recalls rejecting Trump’s ‘meritless’ proposed Supreme Court lawsuit
After detailing an effort by Jeffrey Clark to replace acting attorney general Jeff Rosen in order to help Trump overturn the election, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., turned to former top DOJ lawyer Steven Engel on other efforts by Trump to pressure the department.
After Trump sent a proposed draft lawsuit, done outside the department, to top DOJ attorneys that he wanted to send to the Supreme Court, Engel called it a “meritless lawsuit” and an “unusual request” that the department would never bring.
“Obviously, even the person who drafted this lawsuit didn’t really understand in my view the law, and or how the Supreme Court works or the Department of Justice,” Engel said.
Trump and the White House also asked the Department of Justice if it could point a special counsel to look at widespread election fraud — which did not exist — with Engel detailing why “that was not legally available,” before Kinzinger claimed Trump even offered the position of special counsel to campaign attorney Sidney Powell, as his pressure campaign continued.
Jun 23, 4:18 pm
GOP congressman fought for Clark’s ascension: ‘We gotta get going’
The committee outlined how Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., played a role in trying to elevate Jeffrey Clark, then an obscure DOJ official, to department leadership amid the resistance from other DOJ officials to Trump’s efforts to undermine the election.
Records from the National Archives obtained by the committee showed Perry and Clark met Trump on Dec. 22, 2020. Perry later told a local television news network he had worked with Clark before and “obliged” when asked by Trump to introduce him.
The committee later displayed text messages which showed Perry advising White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to help with Clark’s ascension.
“Mark, just checking in as time continues to count down. 11 days to 1/6 and 25 days to inauguration. We gotta get going,” Perry wrote to Meadows on Dec. 26, 2020.
The next text, sent 30 minutes later, showed Perry telling Meadows to “call Jeff.”
“I just got off the phone with him and he explained to me why the principal deputy won’t work especially with the FBI. They will view it as not having the authority to enforce what needs to be done.”
Jun 23, 4:14 pm
DOJ official warned Clark’s plan could lead to ‘grave, constitutional crisis’
Former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue said he tried to convey to Jeffrey Clark that a draft letter he circulated seeking to ask Georgia’s governor and other top state officials to convene the state legislature into a special session to investigate claims of voter fraud — which didn’t exist — could launch the country into a “constitutional crisis.”
“I had to read both emails and the attached letter twice to make sure I really understood what he was proposing — because it was so extreme to me, I had a hard time getting my head around it initially,” he recalled, adding he and former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen had “visceral reactions to it.”
“I thought it was very important to get a prompt response rejecting this out of hand. In my response, I explained a number of reasons that this is not the department’s rule to suggest or dictate [to] state legislatures,” he said.
“More importantly, this was not based on fact. This was actually contrary to the facts as developed by department investigations over the last several weeks and months,” he added. “For the department to insert itself into the political process this way, I think, would have had great consequences for the country. It may very well have spiraled into a constitutional crisis — and I want to make sure that he understood the gravity of the situation because he did not seem to really appreciate it.”
Jun 23, 4:03 pm
Trump: ‘Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to us’
Drawing from handwritten notes, then-acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue documented that Trump told him to, “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.”
When Donoghue told Trump he couldn’t change the outcome of the election, he recalled Trump “responded very quickly.”
“And said, ‘that’s not what I’m asking you to do — I’m just asking you to say it is corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Donoghue said.
He also said Trump told him the Justice Department was “obligated to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election,” despite officials repeatedly telling him no widespread fraud existed and that Biden was the legitimate winner.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger emphasized the gravity of Trump’s request.
“‘Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to us,'” he said. “The president wanted the top Justice Department officials to declare that the election was corrupt, even though, as he knew, there was absolutely no evidence to support that statement.”
Jun 23, 3:47 pm
Taped testimony previews showdown Oval Office meeting with Trump
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., played previous video testimony ahead of questioning live witnesses to preview how the committee would reveal findings from what took place inside a heated Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3, 2021, between Trump and top Justice Department officials.
“The meeting took about another two and a half hours from the time I entered. It was entirely focused on whether there should be a DOJ leadership change,” former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue recalled in taped testimony. “I would say, directly in front of the president, Jeff Rosen was to my right. Jeff Clark was to my left.”
“He looked at me and he underscored,” said former acting attorney general Jeff Rosen, “‘Well the one thing we know is you’re not gonna do anything, you don’t even agree that the concerns that are being presented are valid. And here is someone who has a different view, so, why shouldn’t I do that, you know?’ That’s how the discussion went, proceeded.”
Former White House attorney Eric Herschmann underscored the purpose of the meeting, where “Jeff Clark was proposing that Jeff Rosen be replaced by Jeff Clark — and I thought the proposal was asinine.”
Donoghue recalled that Clark “repeatedly said to the president that if he was put in the seat, he would conduct real investigations that would, in his view, uncover widespread fraud.”
Jun 23, 3:46 pm
DOJ denied all of Trump’s requests ahead of Jan. 6: Rosen
Former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen told the committee that Trump made several requests to the Department of Justice after Bill Barr left his position in December 2020.
According to Rosen, Trump called him “virtually every day” between December 23 and January 3.
Trump wanted the DOJ to appoint a special counsel for election fraud, set up a meeting with Rudy Giuliani, to potentially file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court, hold a press conference and to send letters to state legislatures furthering baseless claims of fraud.
“I will say that the Justice Department declined all of those requests that I was just referencing,” Rosen said, “because we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them.”
Jun 23, 3:40 pm
Former White House attorney suggests Clark ready to commit felony
The committee played a video of former Trump White House attorney Eric Herschmann recalling what he said he told Jeffrey Clark, a lower-level DOJ official overseeing environmental law enforcement, who supported Trump’s proposal to have him become acting attorney general to help overturn the election results.
“When he finished discussing what he planned on doing, I said ‘[expletive], congratulations. You just admitted your first step you would take as AG would be committing a felony,” Herschmann said. “‘You’re clearly the right candidate for this job.'”
“I told Clark the only thing he knew was that environmental and election both start with “e,” and I’m not even sure you know that,” he added.
In audio testimony, former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue also recalled telling Clark, “Go back to your office, we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill,” and calling the draft letter he wanted to send swing states to appoint alternate slates “a murder-suicide pact.”
Rosen and Donoghue were detailing a two-and-half Oval Office meeting where Trump repeatedly pressed but was eventually dissuaded from his plan to install Clark atop the Justice Department to pursue baseless allegations of voter fraud just days before Congress was set to convene to certify Biden’s victory.
Jun 23, 3:20 pm
Cheney: Public to hear about members of Congress who sought pardons
Vice-chair Liz Cheney focused her opening statement Thursday on teasing a draft letter that Trump and former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark wanted the department to send to Georgia officials citing already disproven allegations of fraud.
“As you will see, this letter claims that the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigations have ‘identified significant concerns hat may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia,'” Cheney said. “In fact, Donald Trump knew this was a lie. The Department of Justice had already informed the president of the United States repeatedly that its investigations had found no fraud sufficient to overturn the results of the 2020 election.”
ABC News obtained and published the draft letter in full last year. Read it here.
Cheney also said the public today will see video testimony by three members of Trump’s White House staff identifying certain members of Congress who contacted the White House after Jan. 6 to “seek presidential pardons for their conduct.”
Jun 23, 3:10 pm
Chair convenes hearing on Trump’s ‘brazen attempt’ to pressure DOJ
Three former top officials in the Justice Department — former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue and former top DOJ lawyer Steven Engel — sat before lawmakers Thursday as Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., convened the fifth public hearing this month.
“Today, we’ll tell the story of how the pressure campaign also targeted the federal agency charged with enforcement of our laws, the Department of Justice,” Thompson said, going to call it “a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s professional and personal agenda.”
All three witnesses are expected to detail how they resisted Trump and his allies’ repeated entreaties to enlist the Justice Department in his failed bid to overturn his election loss.
Jun 23, 2:51 pm
Rep. Adam Kinzinger to lead hearing
Rep. Adam Kinzinger will lead questioning in today’s hearing, committee aides confirmed to reporters. Kinzinger is one of the two Republicans on the nine-member committee.
“The threat to our democracy is real. And today, we’ll see just how close we came to losing it all,” Kinzinger tweeted ahead of the hearing. “Tune in as we uncover President Trump’s pressure campaign on [the Justice Department] in his desperate attempt to subvert the will of the people to stay in power.”
Jun 23, 2:27 pm
Filmmaker with new Trump footage sits for deposition
British documentary filmmaker Alex Holder sat for a deposition with the committee earlier Thursday after a subpoena commanded him to turn over documentary footage — never-seen publicly — filmed for a series on Trump’s final months in office.
“I have no further comment at this time other than to say that our conversation today was thorough and I appreciated the opportunity to share more context about my project,” Holder said in a statement to ABC News.
Holder was “given unparalleled access and exclusive interviews with President Trump, Ivanka, Eric, and Don Jr., Jared Kushner as well as Vice President Pence; in the White House, Mar-A-Lago, behind-the-scenes on the campaign trail, and before and after the events of January 6th,” according to a statement from his spokesperson.
He received a subpoena last Thursday from the committee to turn over footage shot for his documentary series and submitted the materials requested earlier this week.
-ABC News Ali Dukakis
Jun 23, 2:37 pm
House GOP leader dodges questions on Trump, integrity of 2020 election
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., at a news conference Thursday dodged questions about endorsing Trump in 2024 and whether there was any widespread election fraud in the 2020 election.
McCarthy also said he had no regrets about not allowing Republicans to serve on the Jan. 6 committee. Trump has said McCarthy made a “foolish” mistake by refusing to allow Republican members to join the panel after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi blocked several of his picks.
“I do not regret not appointing anybody at all,” McCarthy told reporters.
There are two Republicans serving on the House panel: Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois. The two outspoken Trump critics were appointed by Pelosi.
-ABC News’ Benjamin Siegel
Jun 23, 2:14 pm
Federal agents search home of former Trump Justice Department official
Federal agents searched the Virginia home of former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark on Wednesday morning, multiple sources with direct knowledge of the activity told ABC News.
It was unclear which federal agencies conducted the search, just hours before the House Jan. 6 committee was set to hold a hearing on then-President Donald Trump’s effort to corrupt the Justice Department in what it says was his plot to overturn the election, but one neighbor who witnessed the law enforcement activity said they saw officials entering the residence early Wednesday.
Clark, a former assistant attorney general for the environment and natural resources, emerged as a key player in Trump’s efforts to pressure the Justice Department in the wake of the 2020 election. He previously pleaded the Fifth Amendment in an appearance before the Jan. 6 committee and has declined to comment through an attorney when asked about specific details regarding his alleged coordination with Trump and others.
-ABC News’ Katherine Faulders, Alexander Mallin, Luke Barr and Mike Levine
Jun 23, 1:56 pm
Hearing to detail Trump pressure campaign on DOJ
The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol and what led up to it is set on Thursday to bring into focus Trump’s relentless post-Election Day efforts to enlist the Justice Department in his failed bid to overturn his election loss.
The committee’s fifth hearing this month will feature testimony from three former top officials in the department who say they resisted Trump and his allies’ repeated entreaties, former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue and former top DOJ lawyer Steven Engel.
All three have previously confirmed that they joined a group of top White House lawyers in threatening a mass resignation if Trump didn’t back away from plans to oust Rosen and replace him with another obscure official in the top echelons of the department who was sympathetic to the Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
-ABC News’ Alexander Mallin
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