In the weeks following the 2020 election, President Trump exhausted all avenues to stop swing states from certifying Joe Biden’s wins, including a “pressure campaign” on the Justice Department to back election fraud claims, witnesses said Thursday at House Jan. 6 committee hearing.
“The president wanted the department to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the election to empower his followers and members of Congress to take action,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois, who is one of two Republicans on the nine-member panel, said. “If the department could just lend its credibility to the conspiracies, people would have the justification they needed to spread the big lie.”
The panel convened Thursday for its fifth hearing this week, pulling back the curtain on Mr. Trump and his supporters attempting to pressure the Department of Justice to convince some states to overturn election results they believed were riddled with fraud.
“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest up to me and the Republican congressmen,” Mr. Trump said, according to testimony by acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue.
The hearing showcased testimony by Mr. Donoghue and two other top Justice Department officials, including former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, who took over after Attorney General Bill Barr resigned in December 2020.
Mr. Rosen, along with Mr. Donoghue and Steve Engel, an assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, described efforts to convince Mr. Trump the fraud claims were without merit. They described a tense scene in the Oval Office in which they argued against Mr. Trump’s plan to elevate a lower-level Justice Department environmental lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, who wanted to help Mr. Trump.
In videotaped testimony, former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann described his conversation with Mr. Clark about plans to send a letter to Georgia officials and use election fraud claims to pressure them not to certify the election for Mr. Biden.
“When he finished discussing what he planned on doing,” Mr. Herschmann said, “I said, good, f**king a-hole. Congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you would take as attorney general would be committing a felony.”
The top DOJ officials threatened to quit en masse if Mr. Trump elevated Mr. Clark to serve as acting attorney general.
The committee was initially tasked with examining Mr. Trump’s culpability in the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the U.S. Capitol and lawmakers indicated it is far from wrapping up.
Now conducting the second week of hearings, the committee plans more hearings next month, thanks to “an influx of new information,” in its quest to implicate Mr. Trump, not only for instigating the riot but for attempting to overturn the election results.
“At this point, our committee has just begun to show America the evidence that we have gathered,” Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and one of two GOP lawmakers in the nine-member panel, said. “There is much more to come out in our hearings. And in our report.”
The hearings have provided fresh eyewitness accounts of much of what was already known about Mr. Trump’s actions following the election, including his efforts to elevate Mr. Clark.
Mr. Clark appeared before the committee in a closed-door deposition but asserted his right to remain silent in response to questions about his role.
The hearing comes as the Justice Department stepped up its probe into efforts to overturn the election results.
Federal investigators searched Mr. Clark’s home outside of Washington D.C. early on Thursday as part of that investigation.
Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the committee, said the next hearings will show “how Donald Trump tapped into the threat of violence, how he summoned the mob to Washington, and how after corruption and political pressure failed to keep Donald Trump in office, violence became the last option.”
The special committee is made up entirely of lawmakers appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat.
It has met behind closed doors for months, hearing depositions from former Trump aides and election officials and voting to find several witnesses in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas.
Republicans say the investigation is politically motivated and Democrats are using it to distract from skyrocketing inflation and high gas prices that have damaged their midterm election prospects.
Mr. Trump was impeached for inciting the riot but the Senate failed to convict him of the charges. He continues to argue the election was stolen by Mr. Biden.
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