The panel also highlighted Trump’s own direct pressure on DOJ, which escalated in the days after former Attorney General William Barr announced his resignation in mid-December 2020.
“… Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] Congressmen,” former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue recalled Trump saying during a Dec. 27, 2020, meeting.
Donoghue emphasized that Trump made clear he wasn’t interested in the merit of any election fraud allegations — only in DOJ’s willingness to endorse them, then leave the rest to him and his allies. When his DOJ leadership wouldn’t support his effort, Trump developed a plan to replace them with Clark, whom he viewed as more compliant.
“Beyond the president, I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s to be done to their reputation,” Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said in video testimony.
The top three leaders at DOJ during Trump’s final chaotic weeks in office testified Thursday: former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Donoghue and former Office of Legal Counsel Chief Steven Engel. All three helped thwart Trump’s designs for DOJ by threatening a mass resignation.
Clark was prepared to issue a letter under the auspices of DOJ to multiple states, urging them to convene their legislatures and consider whether to appoint new electors who would favor Trump. Clark, asked about these matters by the select committee during a deposition earlier this year, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights against potential self-incrimination and claimed executive privilege.
Rosen and his allies feared that putting DOJ’s imprimatur on the effort would destabilize the country and intensify public distrust in the election results.
Trump’s designs for DOJ culminated in a fateful Jan. 3, 2021, Oval Office meeting with the three DOJ leaders issuing their resignation threat, causing Trump to back down from a plan to appoint Clark as acting attorney general.
“This was a last opportunity to sort of set things straight with this defective election, and that he could do it,” Donoghue recalled of Clark’s pitch to Trump.
The select committee is also expected to use Thursday’s hearing to elaborate on evidence it teased at its first hearing on June 9: that multiple Trump allies, including Perry, requested pardons for their involvement in Trump’s effort to stay in power. Perry, who chairs the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, has denied making any such request.
The Jan. 6 panel has already shown an email from attorney John Eastman, one of the key architects of Trump’s bid to stay in power, asking to be placed on Trump’s “pardon list.” Committee members have further indicated that other congressional Republicans sought pardons, and chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters Wednesday there would be “conversations” about pardons for GOP lawmakers during Thursday’s hearing.
In court filings connected to its investigation, the committee revealed text messages between Perry and Meadows in which Perry urged Meadows to elevate Clark at DOJ as quickly as possible. The two also discussed a potential deputy for Clark. The select committee has also obtained testimony that Meadows burned some papers in his office after meeting with Perry during those crucial post-election weeks.
The select committee may also home in on DOJ’s post-election defense of then-Vice President Mike Pence against a lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and several false pro-Trump electors. That group sued Pence in federal court, seeking a ruling that would have ramped up pressure on Pence to assert authority to reject Joe Biden’s presidential electors.
DOJ’s defense of Pence was the department’s only election-related litigation during these tumultuous weeks. The litigation also forced Pence, for the first time, to publicly resist efforts by Trump to pressure him to single-handedly overturn the election.
Gohmert’s suit was dismissed in district and appeals courts, and the Supreme Court tossed it as moot after Jan. 6.