Justice Department officials’ unwavering resistance to then-President Trump’s attempts to use their agency to legitimize his bid to remain in office will be the focus of Thursday’s hearing from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
“In the remaining weeks of the transition, President Trump tried to pressure the Department of Justice and help him overturn the 2020 election,” a select committee aide told reporters Wednesday.
“We’ll look specifically at how the president was trying to misuse the department to advance his own agenda to stay in power at the end of his term.”
The Department of Justice was met with a barrage of requests from Trump: that they publicly back his baseless claims of election fraud; that they file lawsuits alongside his campaign; that they announce a special legal counsel to investigate the matter; and, later, that they send letters to states asking them to hold off on certifying their election results while DOJ investigated alleged fraud.
When none of that worked, Trump weighed firing his DOJ leadership and installing a man who would: Jeffrey Clark.
The pressure campaign then burst into an hours-long meeting at the White House, where DOJ officials and White House lawyers united in warning Trump that any such move would lead to mass resignations.
“Mr. President, these aren’t bureaucratic leftovers from another administration … What happens if, within 48 hours, we have hundreds of resignations from your Justice Department because of your actions? What does that say about your leadership?” then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue previously told the committee he asked Trump.
The panel is pledging to take viewers “into the Oval Office” for that crucial Jan. 3 meeting.
Joining the committee Thursday is former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, alongside his deputy Donoghue. Also appearing is Steven Engel, who led the Office of Legal Counsel at the time.
Donoghue, one of the earliest figures to speak with the committee’s investigators, has already appeared consistently through its slate of hearings, with audio from his testimony used to debunk Trump voter fraud claims.
Donoghue has previously offered “blunt and direct” remarks about his standoff with Clark, a mid-level attorney at DOJ who specialized in environmental law and who was introduced to Trump by Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.).
Clark will not be appearing, but excerpts from his deposition where he repeatedly relied on his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination are expected to be shown.
“Jeff Clark certainly was advocating for change in leadership that would put him at the top of the Department, and everyone else in the room was advocating against that and talking about what a disaster this would be,” Donoghue said, according to portions of his deposition and others that were released by the committee in a March court filing.
“He repeatedly said to the president that, if he was put in the seat, he would conduct real investigations that would, in his view, uncover widespread fraud; he would send out the letter that he had drafted; and that this was a last opportunity to sort of set things straight with this defective election, and that he could do it, and he had the intelligence and the will and the desire to pursue these matters in the way that the president thought most appropriate.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), one of only two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, is expected to take an elevated role in walking through the evidence and questioning the trio of witnesses.
It’s the committee’s last hearing this month after deciding to push its final two – or possibly more – into July after receiving new evidence in its ongoing investigation.
Many of the details of Trump’s pressure campaign at DOJ were documented by The New York Times shortly after President Biden’s inauguration and again in an October report from the Senate Judiciary Committee, as well as the Jan. 6 House committee’s March filing.
“Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me,” Trump was reported to have said in a December meeting.
The committee has also relied heavily on clips from former Attorney General Bill Barr in saying the Justice Department was unable to substantiate his “absolute rubbish” voter fraud allegations.
It’s unclear if the panel will offer further details on Perry’s role in the effort after revealing in its first hearing that he was among those to seek a presidential pardon. Committee aides also refused to answer whether it was Sydney Powell — a Trump campaign lawyer who is now facing possible disbarment in Texas due to her false claims in court — whom Trump eyed as a potential special counsel.
“In every hearing there are parts of the story that have already been known,” a committee aide said. “There are parts of the story that haven’t been told yet. So, we will be providing greater context.”