Justice Department officials’ unwavering resistance to former 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.
Follow The Hill’s live coverage below.
At least four House GOP lawmakers asked for pardons after Jan. 6
The Jan. 6 committee investigating the attack on the Capitol revealed Thursday that Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz (Fla.) Mo Brooks (Ala.) Louie Gohmert (Texas) and Andy Biggs (Ariz.) asked for a presidential pardon for their role in voting to overturn election results in certain states on Jan. 6, 2021.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a member of the panel who played an elevated role in Thursday’s proceedings, presented an email from Brooks, dated Jan. 11, 2021, in which the congressman asked for presidential pardons for himself, Gaetz, and lawmakers who objected to the Electoral College vote for Arizona and Pennsylvania.
“President Trump asked me to send you this letter. This letter is also pursuant to a request from Matt Gaetz,” the email reads.
“As such, I recommend that President give general (all purpose) pardons to the following groups of people:,” the email adds. “Every Congressman and Senator who voted to reject the electoral vote submission of Arizona and Pennsylvania.”
The panel also showed a video of former special assistant to the president Cassidy Hutchinson saying Gaetz and Brooks “both advocated for there to be a blanket pardon” for members of Congress involved with a meeting that took place on Dec, 21, 2020, presumably the huddle at the White House that focused on overturning the 2020 presidential election.
— Mychael Schnell
Donoghue warned Trump of potential to trigger mass resignations
Richard Donoghue said he warned former President Trump that appointing Jeff Clark as acting attorney general would have triggered mass resignations across the Department of Justice.
Donoghue, in testimony Thursday, said he threatened to “resign immediately” if Trump put Clark in front of the Justice Department.
Clark was an environmental lawyer who had not tried cases in front of a jury, but was a supporter of Trump’s unfounded claims of widespread election fraud and promised to investigate if made acting attorney general.
Donoghue, who was acting deputy attorney general at the time, said he told Trump, “You could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations in your Justice Department because of your actions. What’s that going to say about you?”
Donoghue predicted “every single [assistant attorney general] will walk out on you. Your entire department leadership will walk out within hours, and I don’t know what happens after that.”
He predicted U.S. attorneys in districts across the country would resign in droves.
Steven Engel, who served as the U.S. Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel during the Trump administration, said he also told Trump he would have resigned if Clark were made acting attorney general.
Engel said he warned Trump appointing Clark would not lead to a successful investigation of election fraud, but rather would make it clear Trump had only appointed Clark because he had agreed to conduct such an investigation.
“Steve pointed out Jeff Clark would be left leaving a graveyard and that comment clearly had an impact on the president,” Donoghue testified.
— Brett Samuels
Trump asked Sydney Powell to serve as special counsel for election issues
Former Trump attorney Sidney Powell told the Jan. 6 select committee that the former president asked her to serve as special counsel in December 2020 to address election issues less than one month before the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
“I know on Friday he had asked me to be special counsel to address the election issues and to collect evidence and he was extremely frustrated with the lack of I would call it law enforcement by any of the government agencies that are supposed to act to protect the rule of law in our republic,” Powell previously told the committee.
The disclosure came in a clip of Powell’s closed-door testimony that was presented at Thursday’s Jan. 6 public hearing, which focused on the pressure Trump exerted on the Department of Justice (DOJ) to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. The New York Times previously reported that Trump discussed naming Powell as special counsel.
But Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), a member of the committee who played an elevated role in Thursday’s proceedings, confirmed that Trump made the offer to Powell during a late-night meeting on Dec. 18, 2020.
Kinzinger argued that appointing a special counsel was meant to “create an illusion of legitimacy and provide fake cover for those who would want to object, including those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.” He presented a tweet from Trump posted after his conversation with Powell that said a “strong, fast, and fair Special Counsel” was needed “IMMEDIATELY.”
Asked by Kinzinger if there was any basis at the DOJ to appoint a special counsel to investigate Trump’s claims of election fraud, Steven Engel, who led the Office of Legal Counsel during part of Trump’s time in office, said the top two figures at the department did not believe such a move was necessary.
“You would appoint a special counsel when the department, when there’s a basis for an investigation and the department essentially has a conflict of interest. It’s important to get someone who’s independent, outside the department, to handle such an investigation,” Engel told the committee during Thursday’s live testimony.
“Neither Attorney General Barr nor acting Attorney General Rosen ever believe that that was appropriate or necessary in this case,” he added.
— Mychael Schnell
Trump pressured DOJ, DHS to seize voting machines
Former President Trump directly urged Department of Justice officials to seize voting machines after the 2020 election as part of an intense pressure campaign to get the department to investigate his false claims of widespread fraud.
Former acting attorney general Jefreyf Rosen recalled a meeting with Trump on Dec. 31 in which Trump pressed Rosen about taking control of voting machines in certain states that he believed had fraudulently changed votes.
“We had seen nothing improper with regard to the voting machines, and I told him that the real experts at that had been at [the Department of Homeland Security], and they had briefed us that they had looked at it and there was nothing wrong with the voting machines. So that was not something that was appropriate to do,” Rosen said.
“I don’t think there was legal authority either,” he added.
Then-acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue testified Thursday that Trump was “very agitated” by Rosen’s response. Donoghue said Trump called out to his secretary to get Ken Cuccinelli, who was a top official at DHS at the time, on the phone.
Trump told Cuccinelli he was informed it was his job to seize voting machines, “and you’re not doing your job,” Donoghue testified.
Asked if he’d ever told Trump DHS could seize voting machines, Rosen responded, “No, certainly not.”
It had previously been reported that Trump officials had drafted an executive order calling for the seizure of voting machines in the aftermath of the 2020 election.
— Brett Samuels
Biden catching Jan. 6 hearings ‘from time to time’
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said Thursday that President Biden has remained up to speed on the Jan. 6 committee hearings but hasn’t been able to watch all of the proceedings.
“The president catches it from time to time,” she told reporters during a briefing. “He has a busy schedule.”
Jean-Pierre encouraged Americans to watch the hearings and said the White House has confidence in the panel to investigate the circumstances surrounding the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, calling it a “brutal attack on our democracy, a brutal attack on law enforcement.”
“We believe that Americans should be watching and paying attention to learn exactly what happened on that day,” she said.
— Morgan Chalfant
Cheney details DOJ official who drafted election letters to states
Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said that Kenneth Klukowski, an attorney who helped draft a letter that would have asked Georgia officials not to certify their election results, had links to two of the top legal architects of Trump’s effort to overturn the election, Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman, and joined the DOJ with just a month left in the Trump administration.
Cheney said Klukowski joined the department on December 15, 2020 to work on Clark’s staff at the Civil Division. Clark and Klukowski drafted a letter that would have put states on notice that the DOJ was planning to investigate election fraud allegations.
Clark asked the acting attorney general and deputy attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, to sign the letter in late December 2020. They refused, sparking a standoff at the department.
Trump later floated the idea of firing Rosen and installing Clark as the acting attorney general so that he could investigate his election fraud claims.
Donoghue and other DOJ and White House officials threatened to resign if the plan was carried out and Trump demurred.
Klukowski, who also previously worked at the White House Office of Management and Budget and is now in private practice, did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
— Harper Neidig
Giuliani tells Jan. 6 panel he pushed for AG who would pursue Trump’s claims
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s former legal adviser, told the select committee that he had pushed for someone to be installed as attorney general who would not be worried about using the Justice Department to pursue Trump’s baseless claims of election fraud.
In a clip of Giuliani’s deposition with the committee that was played during Thursday’s hearing, the former New York City mayor said he had told others at the time that the DOJ should be led by someone not concerned by the potential reputational costs of challenging the 2020 election.
“Well 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 going to be done to their reputation,” Giuliani said in the clip. “Because Justice was filled with people like that.”
Trump’s pick to lead the department was Jeffrey Clark, who was the acting head of the DOJ Civil Division at the time, but the plan was abandoned when the department’s leadership threatened to resign en masse if the president went through with it.
— Harper Neidig
Official’s notes show Trump wanted DOJ to declare election corruption
Notes from former Justice Department official Richard Donoghue displayed Tuesday at a House hearing on the Jan. 6 riot showed how former President Trump pushed the department to declare the 2020 election corrupt.
Donoghue, who was the acting deputy attorney general at the time, took contemporaneous notes during a Dec. 27, 2020, phone call with Trump in which the former president repeatedly complained about the lack of action from the Department of Justice on claims of voter fraud that were found to be baseless. Those notes were on display at Thursday’s hearing of the House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riots at the Capitol.
Donoghue recalled telling Trump that the Department of Justice “can’t and won’t snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election.”
Trump responded: “Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressman,” according to Donoghue’s notes.
“That’s an exact quote from the president, yes,” Donoghue said at Thursday’s hearing.
Another note from the phone call showed Trump kept pressing Donoghue despite being told repeatedly there was no evidence of widespread fraud.
Trump told Donoghue the Justice Department was “obligated to tell people that this was an illegal corrupt election.”
Donoghue, who was elevated to deputy acting attorney general after Bill Barr resigned as attorney general earlier in December 2020, described the Dec. 27 conversation with Trump as an “escalation” of the former president’s claims of voter fraud.
The president “became more adamant that we weren’t doing our job,” Donoghue recalled, saying Trump had “this arsenal of allegations that he wanted to rely on.”
Donoghue said he went “piece by piece” to debunk various claims Trump had raised, using witness interviews, investigations and documents to show how each allegation fell apart under scrutiny. Donoghue said he debunked claims about machine errors in Michigan, a truck driver transporting ballots to Pennsylvania, and video footage of votes being counted in Georgia.
“I went piece by piece to say, ‘No that’s false, that’s not true,’ and to correct him really in a serial fashion,” Donoghue said.
— Brett Samuels
Former acting AG gives glimpse inside Trump pressure campaign
Former acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen on Thursday told the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riots that former President Trump contacted him almost daily as he pressured the Justice Department to investigate debunked claims of voter fraud in the 2020 election.
Rosen said Trump called him or met virtually with him every day between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, with the exception of Christmas Day.
“The common element of all of this was the president expressing his dissatisfaction that the Justice Department in his view had not done enough to investigate election fraud. But at different junctures other topics came up at different intervals,” Rosen testified.
Trump at various points brought up appointing a special counsel for election fraud, Rosen said. Another request was for Rosen to meet with Rudy Giuliani, who was representing Trump in his campaign’s legal challenges.
Trump at one point suggesting sending letters from the Justice Department to state legislatures declaring the election was fraudulent.
“The Justice Department declined all of those requests… because we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them,” Rosen told the panel.
— Brett Samuels
Sean Penn eyed at Jan. 6 hearing
An unexpected visitor is witnessing history at the Jan. 6 committee hearing, as actor Sean Penn was eyed at Thursday’s televised event.
The “Milk” star and celebrity activist was seen grinning and shaking hands as he sat with Capitol Police officers at the fifth public hearing.
A representative for Penn didn’t immediately return ITK’s request for comment.
The 61-year-old Academy Award winner and CORE founder was one of several performers who spoke out in the aftermath of the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol last year, in a tweet to his 190,000 followers seemingly critical of then-President Trump.
“Hell hath no fury like a narcissist scorned,” Penn wrote at the time.
Thursday’s hearing is expected to focus on Trump’s pressure campaign at the Department of Justice ahead of the deadly attack.
— Judy Kurtz
Kinzinger gets his star turn on Jan. 6 panel
Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), one of the most outspoken critics of former President Trump, will get his star turn on the Jan. 6 select committee Thursday when he leads the panel in laying out the case that Trump tried to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) into overturning the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The six-term Illinois congressman is one of two Republicans on the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol, serving alongside Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the vice chair of the panel.
Both lawmakers broke with Trump in the aftermath of the Capitol riot. Since then, they have not shied away from hammering the ex-president and his top allies in the party, including their own congressional colleagues.
— Mychael Schnell
Feds search home of former Trump DOJ official
Federal law enforcement this week searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice Department official accused of trying to use the agency to pursue former President Trump’s election fraud allegations, multiple news outlets reported Thursday.
According to The New York Times, Clark’s suburban Virginia home was searched on Wednesday, a day before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack was set to hear from former DOJ officials about the internal strife in the Trump administration following the 2020 election.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office in D.C. did not immediately respond when asked for comment on the reports.
Clark was central to Trump’s pressure campaign at the DOJ and Trump even weighed installing him as attorney general, according to previously released material.
— Harper Neidig
Catch up while you’re waiting for hearing to begin
Thursday’s hearing starts at 3 p.m. Catch up on the latest headlines while you’re waiting for it to start.
— The Hill staff