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January 6 panel details Trump’s DOJ pressure campaign

WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump has requested inside Justice Department help to execute his campaign to void the 2020 election, according to evidence presented by the House committee on Jan. 6 Thursday.

“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump implored senior justice officials in a December 27, 2020 conversation, commemorated in the contemporary notes of the Deputy Attorney General. acting, Richard Donoghue.

After Donoghue and Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen repeatedly pushed back against pressure from Trump, they testified Thursday, he threatened to replace Rosen with Jeff Clark, an inexperienced loyalist who had drafted a letter claiming that the outcome of the election was uncertain and urging states to certify fake voter rolls.

The letter amounted to a “murder-suicide pact” that would “harm anyone who touches it,” White House attorney Pat Cipollone said during an intense Oval Office meeting Jan. 3, according to multiple sources. witnesses. In that same discussion, held three days before the official voter count in Congress, Trump weighed the pros and cons of placing Clark at the top of the Justice Department to ensure the letter would be sent to swing states.

Trump’s treatment of justice officials represents one piece of an emerging historical record that committee members say proves he orchestrated a sprawling campaign to invalidate his defeat. At the same time he was trying to coerce the Justice Department, Trump campaign lawyers were pressuring state officials to nullify the results and curating lists of fake voters.

Since the Watergate scandal, most presidents have worked to project a laissez-faire approach to the Justice Department, allowing the agency to operate independently and as apolitically as possible. But throughout his tenure, Trump ignored those standards and sought to treat the agency as his own legal department.

“It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda,” committee chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, said Thursday.

At the Jan. 3 meeting — just three days before official voter certification in Congress — Trump debated whether to make a change at the top of the department.

“What do I have to lose? ” He asked.

Steven Engel, former Deputy Attorney General of the Office of Legal Counsel, left to right, Jeffrey Rosen, former Acting Attorney General, and Richard Donoghue, former Acting Deputy Attorney General, are sworn in to testify as a select committee of the Chamber at the Capitol on June 23, 2022.Jacquelyn Martin/AP

But the conversation took place at a time when he was trying to project strength and stability. Advisors told him there would be an embarrassing wave of Justice resignations if he put Clark in charge. Advisors told him that Clark – who was in the room – was not competent to lead the agency.

Trump caved. Clark was not promoted. The letter was never sent.

But Trump’s effort to enlist the nation’s top law enforcement officials fits the committee’s case that he intended to use every tool available – regardless of laws, standards or precedents – to challenge voters and cling to power.

Clark became a central figure in the investigation around January 6. Federal agents attended Clark’s home on Wednesday, according to a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office. In a statement, Russ Vought, a former Trump administration official and Clark’s employer at the Center for Renewing America, called the “raid” political.

Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, led the questioning of three witnesses Thursday: Rosen, Donoghue and former assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel.

The panel has previously played recorded testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr, who said he told Trump in December 2020 that the election was not stolen. Barr, who had said in an interview with The Associated Press that Justice had uncovered no evidence of fraud, resigned before the end of the year.

In its four previous public hearings, the committee presented evidence — through documents and testimony — about the physical attack on the Capitol, with Trump being told he had lost, Trump’s efforts to pressure then-Vice President Mike Pence and state officials to help his effort to prevent Joe Biden from taking office, and his team’s plan to replace official voters in seven states with lists of “fake voters”.

At an earlier hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., promised to name lawmakers who had asked Trump for forgiveness in the final days of his presidency. The committee released recordings of testimony on Thursday about Rep. Matt Gaetz’s efforts to secure a broad pardon from Trump.

A federal grand jury is investigating whether Gaetz, R-Fla., committed crimes in connection with a sex trafficking case. He has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with a crime.

The committee also revealed that it had received evidence that several other Republican lawmakers inquired about obtaining a pardon: Reps. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, Scott Perry, R-Pa., and Andy Biggs , R—Arizona.

Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala., has apologized to lawmakers — including himself — who voted against voter certification, according to testimony.

It’s not yet clear whether the hearings are having a significant effect on public opinion regarding Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurgency or his fitness for office, but some committee members say they see signs of a shift. against the former president.

“There are a lot of people around the edge, especially in the Republican Party and elsewhere, who didn’t know the whole story,” Kinzinger told NBC News in an interview. “And now when they see the full story, they’re really amazed by it, and how close we got and how brazen that attempt was to change the election.” fspra


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