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Witnesses in today’s hearing revealed details of a dramatic Oval Office meeting on January 3, 2021, in which senior Justice Department officials banded together to prevent Jeffrey Clark, a environmental attorney at the DOJ, to replace acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen.
Trump was keen to install Clark, an ally, to exercise the powers of the DOJ to overturn the 2020 election results.
The meeting came a day after Clark told Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue that Trump had asked him to consider replacing Rosen. Clark doubled down on his claims that there was fraud in the election and acknowledged that he had ongoing discussions with Trump, despite assuring the couple a week before that he would not engage in any conversations with the president.
On Jan. 3, Clark told Rosen that “the timeline had been brought forward” and that Trump had offered him the top job and he was accepting it. Following that meeting, Rosen called White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to arrange a meeting that evening with the President. White House attorney Pat Cipollone and Steven Engel, assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, participated in the meeting.
Prior to the meeting with Trump, Donoghue held a conference call with the assistant attorneys general and asked what they would do if Clark was installed as head of the department. He testified that those attending the meeting “said they would quit en masse.”
A few hours later, the tense meeting began.
Rosen said Trump “turned to me and said – ‘Well, one thing we know is that you, Rosen, you’re not going to do anything. You don’t even agree with the allegations of voter fraud, and that other guy at least could do something,” referring to Clark.
“I said, ‘Well, Mr. President, you’re right, I won’t allow the Department of Justice to do anything to try to nullify the election. It’s true,” Rosen recalled. “‘But the reason is that it’s what’s in accordance with the facts and the law, and it’s what’s required by the Constitution.'”
Donoghue eventually joined the meeting and recalled Trump asking, “What do I have to lose?” replacing Rosen with Clark.
“It was actually a good opening because I said, ‘Mr. President, you have a lot to lose,'” he said. “I started explaining to him what he had to lose, what the country had to lose and what the department had to lose, and it was in no one’s interest. This conversation went on for a while. own thoughts, all of which were consistent as to how damaging it would be to the country.”
The conversation turned to whether Clark was qualified to lead the Justice Department.
“It was a lively conversation. I thought it was worth pointing out to the president that Jeff Clark just didn’t have the skills, ability, and experience to run the department,” Donoghue said.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, you’re talking about putting a man in this seat who’s never tried a criminal case, who’s never conducted a criminal investigation. He’s telling you he’s going to take instructs the department — 115,000 employees, including the entire FBI — and turn the place into a dime and conduct nationwide criminal investigations that will produce results in days. It won’t happen and it will fail.
Donoghue said Trump asked him what he would do if he replaced Rosen with Clark.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, I would resign immediately. I don’t work a minute for this guy,'” he replied.
Engel echoed that: “‘I’ve been with you through four attorneys general, including two acting attorneys general, but I couldn’t be one of them,'” he told Trump.
Donoghue told Trump he would lose “his entire department” if he went ahead.
“Within 24-48-72 hours, you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations from the leadership of your entire Department of Justice because of your actions. What’s that going to say about you?” Donoghue remembers asking.
According to Donoghue, Cipollone supported the DOJ and said Clark’s plan to send a letter to the states about voter fraud was a “murder-suicide” pact.
Donoghue said Clark would be “left in charge of a graveyard,” a statement he said impacted Trump, who ultimately decided not to fire Rosen.