WASHINGTON – That Committee of January 6th will hear from former Justice Department officials who have faced a relentless campaign of pressure from Donald Trump over the results of the 2020 presidential election while suppressing a bizarre challenge from within their own ranks.
Thursday’s hearing will draw attention to a memorably turbulent period in the department as Trump, in his final days in office, sought to bend to his will a law enforcement agency that has long valued its independence from the White House. The testimony aims to show how Trump not only relied on outside advisers to back up his allegations of voter fraud, but also attempted to use federal executive branch powers.
Among the witnesses is Jeffrey Rosen, who was acting attorney general during that time January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol. Three days earlier, Rosen was part of a tense showdown in the Oval Office, with Trump considering replacing him with a junior official, Jeffrey Clark, who wanted to champion Trump’s allegations of voter fraud.
Two other former ministry officials, Rosen’s top deputy Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, are also expected to testify. Both warned Trump at the White House meeting that if he replaced Rosen with Clark, they would resign and that many of the department’s attorneys would follow suit.
“You could have a situation here within 24 hours where hundreds of people are resigning from the Justice Department,” Donoghue said, telling Trump. “Is this good for anyone? Is it good for the department? Is it good for the country? Is it good for you. It is not.”
Only then did Trump give in. The night and later his reign ended with Rosen still in power.
That Hearing is the fifth this month by the committee investigating the run-up to the Capitol riot as Trump loyalists stormed the building as lawmakers confirmed the results of Joe Biden’s election. Witnesses included police officers who were attacked in the Capitol, as well as attorneys, a television executive and local election officials, all of whom defied calls to change the results in Trump’s favour.
The committee last week presented videotaped testimony from former Attorney General William Barr, who castigated Trump’s cheating allegations as ‘bullshit’, ‘wrong’ and ‘idiotic’ and resigned after failing to persuade the President to do so.
Thursday’s hearing will focus on what happened next, when Barr’s chief deputy Rosen took over the department and was immediately besieged by Trump’s demands for Justice Department action.
In a phone call according to handwritten notes Adopted by Donoghue and released by lawmakers last year, Trump instructed Rosen to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. congressman.”
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 later became chief of the civil division. Clark was previously subpoenaed by the committee to testify but will not be among the witnesses Thursday.
According to other Justice Department officials, Clark met with Trump despite orders from Department bosses not to do so and presented himself as eager to support the president’s efforts to contest the election results. A report The report released last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which portrayed Clark as a relentless advocate for Trump, included a draft letter urging Georgia officials to call a special legislative session to consider the election results.
Clark wanted the letter mailed, but Justice Department supervisors refused.
The situation came to a head on January 3, 2021, a Sunday, when Clark told Rosen in a private meeting at the Justice Department that Trump wanted Clark to replace him as acting Attorney General. Rosen responded, according to the Senate report, that “I couldn’t imagine a universe where that would ever happen” and that he would not accept being fired by a subordinate.
Rosen then contacted the White House to request a meeting. That night, Rosen, Donoghue and Engel joined Clark with Trump and senior White House counsel for a contentious, hour-long Oval Office meeting over whether the president should go ahead with his plans for a radical leadership change at the ministry.
According to Rosen, Trump opened the meeting by saying, “One thing we do know is that you, Rosen, are not going to do anything to overthrow the election.”
Donoghue and Engel made it clear to Trump that if Trump fired Rosen, they and a large number of other Justice Department officials would resign. So did the White House attorneys. Pat Cipollone, then the White House Counsel, once said the letter Clark wanted to send was a “murder-suicide pact.”
“Steve Engel once said, ‘Jeff Clark is going to run a cemetery. And what are you going to do with a graveyard that there would be such an exodus of leadership,” Donoghue told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the president was told very clearly that that was going to happen.”
Donoghue also tried to dissuade Trump from believing that Clark had the legal background to do what the president wanted, since he wasn’t a prosecutor at the Department.
“And he kind of responded by saying, ‘Well, I’ve done a lot of very complicated appeals and civil litigation, environmental litigation and things like that,'” Donoghue said. “And I said, ‘That’s right. You are an environmental advocate. How about you go back to your office and we’ll call you if there’s an oil spill?”
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