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Trump told Justice Department to call election ‘corrupt’ – The Denver Post

By Eric Tucker

WASHINGTON (AP) — Donald Trump has harassed the Justice Department to pursue his bogus claims of voter fraud, trying in vain to enlist top law enforcement officials in his desperate bid to stay in power and not ceding only when he was warned in the Oval Office of mass resignations, according to testifying Thursday before the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot.

Three Trump-era Justice Department officials have recounted the president’s persistent harassment, including day-to-day directives to chase baseless claims that Democrat Joe Biden’s election was stolen. They said they brushed aside every request from Trump because there was no evidence of widespread fraud, then regrouped when the president considered whether to replace the department’s top lawyer with an official from lower level ready to help undo the results.

The hearing, the fifth this month by the panel investigating the assault on the Capitol, made clear that Trump’s extensive lobbying campaign targets not only election officials across the state, but also his own agencies. executive. Witnesses solemnly described the president’s constant contact as an extraordinary breach of protocol, especially since the Justice Department has long cherished its independence from the White House and avoided partisan politics in decisions. of investigation.

“When you damage our fundamental institutions, it’s not easy to fix them,” said Jeffrey Rosen, the Trump administration’s late acting attorney general. “So I thought that was a really important question, to try to make sure the Department of Justice was able to stay on track.”

The hearing focused on a memorably tumultuous time at the department following the December 2020 departure of Attorney General William Barr, who drew Trump’s ire with his public proclamation that there was no evidence of fraud that would have could change the election results. He was replaced by his deputy principal, Rosen, who said that for about two weeks after taking office, he met or was called upon by Trump virtually every day. The common theme, he said, was “dissatisfaction with what the Justice Department had done to investigate voter fraud.”

Trump presented the department with an “arsenal of allegations,” none of which are true, said Richard Donoghue, another senior official who testified Thursday. Despite this, Trump has pushed the department at various times to seize voting machines, appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations of fraud, and simply declare the election corrupt.

The department did none of that.

“For the department to insert itself into the political process in this way, I think it would have had serious consequences for the country that could very well have dragged us into a constitutional crisis,” Donoghue said.

The testimony made it clear that Trump had found a willing ally in the department, however, in the form of an environmental enforcement attorney who became the head of the agency’s civil division. The attorney, Jeffrey Clark, was introduced to Trump in late December by a Republican congressman and presented himself as willing to defend the election fraud allegations. In a contentious Oval Office meeting on the night of January 3, 2021, just three days before the election, Trump considered replacing Rosen with Clark, but backed down in the face of threats of mass resignations,

Clark’s name was mentioned early and often during the hearing, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican and committee member, deriding him as a lawyer whose only qualification was his loyalty to Trump. A lawyer for Clark did not return messages seeking comment.

“Who is Jeff Clark?” Kinzinger asked rhetorically. “He would do anything the president wants him to do, including overturning a free and fair democratic election.”

Just an hour before the hearing began, it was revealed that federal agents had searched Clark’s home in Virginia on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to discuss it by name and said spoken on condition of anonymity. It was unclear what the agents were looking for.

The latest hearing focused less on the violence on Capitol Hill than on Trump’s legal pressure to overturn the election results. In a phone conversation, according to handwritten notes taken by Donoghue and prominently displayed during Thursday’s hearing, Trump ordered Rosen to “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the members of Congress.” A..”

Around that time, Trump was introduced by a Republican congressman, Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, to Clark, who had joined the department in 2018 as chief environmental attorney and was later named to lead its civil division. Clark was subpoenaed by the committee but was not among the witnesses Thursday. On Thursday, lawmakers released a videotaped deposition showing him repeatedly invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Perry’s name surfaced later during the hearing, when the committee released videotaped statements from Trump aides saying he and several other Republican members of Congress had asked the president for pardons that would would protect them from criminal prosecution, the testimony revealed.

Perry and fellow GOP Representatives Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Matt Gaetz of Florida and Louie Gohmert of Texas had all been involved in efforts to reject the voter count or submit “bogus voters.” Gaetz tweeted Thursday that the hearing was a “political spectacle.”

The situation came to a head on January 3, 2021, a Sunday, when Clark informed Rosen in a private meeting at the Justice Department that Trump wanted to replace him with Clark as acting attorney general. Rosen, resistant to the idea of ​​being fired by a subordinate, testified that he contacted senior Justice Department officials to rally them. He also requested a meeting at the White House.

That night, he reported to the White House for what would be a dramatic, hours-long meeting centered on whether Trump should follow through on his plans for a dramatic change in leadership within the department. There was also Steven Engel, another senior Justice Department official and Rosen ally who testified Thursday, and Clark.

At the start of the meeting, Rosen testified on Thursday: “The president turned to me and said, ‘The only thing we know is that you, Rosen, are not going to do anything. You don’t even agree with the allegations of voter fraud and this guy could at least do something about it.

Donoghue made it clear to Engel that he would resign if Trump replaced Rosen with Clark. Trump asked Engel if he would do the same, and Engel replied that he absolutely would because he would have no choice.

The president backed off. The night, and later his Republican administration, ended with Rosen still atop the Justice Department.

Donoghue also sought to dissuade Trump from believing that Clark had the legal knowledge to do what the president wanted since he was not a prosecutor with the department.

“And he kind of shot back and said, ‘Well, I’ve done a lot of very complicated calls and civil litigation, environmental litigation and things like that,'” Donoghue said. “That’s right. You’re an environmental lawyer. How about going back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.”

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Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro, Mary Clare Jalonick and Farnoush Amiri in Washington contributed to this report.

For full coverage of the January 6 hearings, visit https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.

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