The final open committee hearing on January 6 on Thursday shed considerable new light on former President Donald Trump’s attempts to arm the Justice Department in the final months of his tenure as part of his plot to cancel the 2020 election and stay in power.
The hearing began just hours after federal investigators raided the home of Jeffrey Clark, who was one of the key Justice Department figures implicated in Trump’s schemes. He denied any wrongdoing related to Jan. 6.
Three Trump appointees testified in person Thursday, joining a growing list of Republicans who have been sworn in to provide damning information about Trump’s post-election shenanigans. The witnesses were former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, who ran the department’s legal counsel office.
Here are the takeaways from Thursday’s hearing.
Thursday’s hearing highlighted the role Trump’s Republican allies in Congress played in furthering his efforts to try to overturn the election — and how many of them asked for forgiveness after Jan. 6.
The House Select Committee in particular has focused on the efforts of Rep. Scott Perry, the Pennsylvania Republican who linked Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark to the White House in December 2020.
CNN previously reported on Perry’s role, and the Court Records Committee released text messages Perry exchanged with White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows about Clark.
“He wanted Mr. Clark — Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice,” Cassidy Hutchinson, a former Meadows aide, said of Perry in a clip of his deposition that aired during the hearing. hearing on Thursday.
The committee also released new details about Republican members of Congress who are seeking clemency after Jan. 6, including Perry and Representatives Mo Brooks of Alabama and Matt Gaetz of Florida.
“President Trump has asked me to send you this letter. This letter also follows a request from Matt Gaetz,” said an email Brooks sent to the White House in January 2021, according to the committee. As such, I recommend that the President grant blanket (all-purpose) pardons to the following groups of people.”
The email included a group of names of “all congressmen and senators who voted to reject the ballot submissions from the Arizona and Pennsylvania electoral colleges.”
Thursday’s hearing was led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who was widely ostracized by the Republican conference for his role on the Jan. 6 committee.
“My colleagues here also take the oath. Some of them didn’t live up to theirs and instead chose to spread the big lie,” Kinzinger said before discussing the pardons.
Kinzinger retires at the end of his term.
The hearing sparked a high-stakes Oval Office meeting in December 2020, where Trump considered firing the acting attorney general and installing Clark, who was willing to use the powers of federal law enforcement. to encourage state lawmakers to reverse Trump’s loss.
At the start of these summer hearings, we already knew a lot about the meeting. But on Thursday, for the first time, we heard live testimony from some of the Justice Department officials who were in the room, including Rosen, then acting attorney general. (He survived the meeting, after Trump was told there would be mass resignations at the Justice Department if he replaced Rosen with Clark.)
Trump’s White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said Clark was repeatedly “knocked over the head” during the meeting. He told the committee that he called Clark a “fucking hole” and that his plans would have been illegal. He also said that Clark’s plan to send letters to battleground states was “crazy”.
In videotaped testimony that aired Thursday, Donoghue said he eviscerated Clark’s credentials during the meeting, explaining that Clark was woefully underqualified to serve as attorney general.
“You are an environmental lawyer. How about going back to your office, and we’ll call you if there’s an oil spill,” Donoghue said in the deposition, describing what he told Clark during the White House meeting.
Donoghue said then-White House counsel Pat Cipollone called Clark’s plan a “murder-suicide pact.”
Donoghue himself described Clark’s plan as “impossible” and “absurd”.
“It will never happen,” Donoghue said of the plan. “And it will fail.”
Thanks to the pushback of Rosen, Donoghue, Herschmann, Cipollone and perhaps others, Trump did not follow through with his plan, which would have put the country in uncharted waters and increased the chances that Trump would succeed in his attempt. putsch.
The three witnesses who testified Thursday made it clear that Trump tried to use every lever of the federal government to help him validate his claim that the election was stolen and ultimately overturn the legitimate result by Jan. 6.
They described how senior officials at the highest levels of government had been pressured into investigating conspiracy theories stemming from fringe corners of the internet as Trump sought to validate what were ultimately baseless claims of widespread voter fraud.
Then-Secretary of Defense Chris Miller even contacted a counterpart in Rome, at the request of the White House, to investigate a conspiracy theory that Italian satellites changed Trump’s votes to Joe Biden. .
The conspiracy theory, which CNN previously reported was among those that then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows pushed senior national security officials to investigate, has been called of “pure madness” by former Justice Department official Richard Donoghue, who was also asked to consider the claim.
The former Justice Department officials also detailed how Trump himself urged them and senior Department of Homeland Security officials to seize state government voting machines in an effort to prosecute the same thing – all without cause to take such an unprecedented step.
“Why don’t you just grab the machines?” Trump said during a meeting at the White House in late December 2020, according to Donoghue’s testimony.
Using the Justice Department, or any other federal agency, to seize the voting machines would have been an unprecedented step, but Trump has made it clear he wants his allies to pursue it as an option.
‘Call Ken Cuccinelli on the phone,’ Trump shouted to his secretary after Justice Department officials told him DHS had expertise in voting machines and determined there was no reason to seize them, according to Rosen. .
Rosen confirmed Thursday that he never told Trump that DHS could seize voting machines. CNN previously reported that Trump pushed the Justice Department and DHS to seize the voting machines.
CNN also previously reported that Trump allies drafted executive orders that would have required the military and DHS to seize the voting machines if they had been signed by Trump — but they ultimately weren’t.
Thursday’s proceedings featured testimony from three attorneys who described behind-the-scenes events at the Justice Department and the White House. It was a departure from hearings on Tuesday and previous hearings, which featured moving testimony from election workers and included jarring video montages of the carnage on Capitol Hill.
But even if there were no rhetorical fireworks, the substance of the testimony was key to understanding the scale of Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election. Former Justice Department officials described what what they saw and heard when Trump tried to enlist them to help him stay in power – and how he tried to oust them when they refused to do his bidding.
The material was sometimes dense. Witnesses reconstructed White House meetings and phone calls with Trump. They were asked to dissect their handwritten notes of some of those interactions — something you see more often in criminal trials, and less frequently in a congressional hearing.
However, the constant testimonies of witnesses shed new light on events that we have known about for more than a year. And the entire audience reminisced about the Nixon era, as it was about how a sitting president tried to weaponize the powers of federal law enforcement to help his political campaign.
Federal investigators’ raid on Clark’s home in northern Virginia preceded revelations of Clark’s actions in 2020 during the hearing. Lawmakers were caught off guard, but for the first time in a long time, it looked like federal investigators may have heeded their public calls to finally take action.
The raid took place on Wednesday but was reported Thursday morning. It’s unclear which government entity was behind the raid, and it’s not publicly known what prompted the search of his home, or what investigators were looking for.
Even with those questions unanswered, it’s significant that federal investigators took such overt action — raiding Clark’s home — against one of the most high-profile figures in Trump’s post-election schemes.
The committee hoped to make Clark a household name on Thursday, obtaining testimony from senior Justice Department officials about how he tried to abuse law enforcement powers to help Trump overturn the 2020 results. in the states he had lost. With the raid, it seems the committee got their wish.
This story was updated with additional developments on Thursday.