In the weeks and months after the 2020 election, former President Trump pressured several officials at the top of the Department of Justice to investigate allegations of voter fraud or irregularities in the election.
The department investigated each allegation and came to the conclusion that there was no evidence of widespread fraud. Nonetheless, Trump continued his pressure campaign in an effort to remain in power despite his loss to Joe Biden.
In a call between Trump and one official, the former president requested the Justice Department “just say the election was corrupt” and “leave the rest to me” and several Republican congressmen.
Each official resisted, except for one: Jeffrey Clark, an environmental lawyer by training who served as the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division.
Clark was at the center of the Jan. 6 committee’s fifth public hearing this month, as were the former president’s repeated efforts to use the Justice Department to subvert the election results
Three former Justice Department officials testified: Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general, Richard Donoghue, Rosen's former deputy, and Steven Engel, the former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.
Jeffrey Rosen, former acting Attorney General, left, and Richard Donoghue, former acting Deputy Attorney General, arriveas the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022.(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
The three men shared their accounts of what happened within the department and the Trump White House in the days and weeks between the election and the violence on Jan. 6.
They testified that the former president made several requests of the department in the post election period, including appointing a special counsel to investigate nonexistent widespread fraud. When Rosen, Donoghue, and others refused, Trump and his team sent them a deluge of allegations to investigate on their own.
Donoghue told the committee he and other officials at the department investigated the allegations, but none of them turned out to be true. He also said the Justice Department does not have a role in policing election issues since each state runs its own elections.
“We are not quality control for the states,” Donoghue said. “But the bottom line was that if a state ran their election in such a way that it was defective, that is to the state or Congress to correct. It is not for the Justice Department to step in.”
The committee explored the minutiae of several allegations the Trump White House presented to officials at the Justice Department, including a conspiracy theory about Italian software being uploaded to a satellite and used to switch votes in the United States. White House Chief of Staff Meadows sent a link to a YouTube video summarizing this conspiracy to Rosen, who then sent it to Donoghue.
Donoghue said he called it “pure insanity” in a reply to Rosen.
The committee’s questioning, led by Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill. 16th District), also focused on Clark and how he came to be on Trump’s radar.
“The president didn’t care about actually investigating the facts, he just wanted the Department of Justice to put its stamp of approval on the lies,” Kinzinger said. “Who was going to help him? Jeff Clark.”
Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., left, and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., arrive as the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol continues to reveal its findings of a year-long investigation, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 23, 2022. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Evidence the committee obtained showed Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa. 10th District) introduced Clark to Trump’s orbit. Perry is one of several Republican lawmakers who has refused to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee.
Clark was the lone official within the Justice Department who would go along with the former president’s spurious claims of fraud and take actionable steps to subvert the results.
He proposed sending a letter to officials in key states encouraging them to submit alternate slates of electors.
The letter, initially drafted by another official, Kenneth Klukowski, to be sent to the Georgia legislature specifically, saying the Justice Department had "significant concerns" about the vote and that each state should consider sending an alternate slate of electors supporting Trump.
Clark was repeatedly rebuffed by his superiors at the Justice Department. This led Rep. Perry to push Meadows to elevate Clark within the department to have easier communication with the president.
In a meeting with Rosen and Donoghue on Jan. 2, 2021, Clark told them Trump asked him if he would accept the job of acting attorney general if he was offered. Clark had told the president he would.
The next day, Rosen met with Clark. Clark told Rosen the timeline had moved up, and Trump was going to appoint Clark to be the new acting attorney general.
Rosen, taken aback by what amounted to him essentially being fired by a subordinate, immediately called Meadows to set up an Oval Office meeting with Trump later the same day.
Rosen also corralled Engel, Donoghue, White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, and Eric Herschmann, a lawyer in the Trump White House, to go with him to the meeting. Clark also attended.
Donoghue arrived late, wearing jeans, muddy boots and an army t-shirt since he had not expected to be going to the White House that day.
During the meeting, all present proceeded to criticize Clark and the president’s plan to appoint him as the acting attorney general.
The Georgia letter was dismissed by all present, save for Clark. Donoghue and Rosen raised the fact that there was no evidence for any of the claims in the letter.
Clark’s qualifications were also a central concern, as he had never tried a criminal case before and was about to become the acting head of the largest law enforcement organization in the country.
“How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill?” Donoghue recalled in audio testimony played by the committee, poking at Clark’s experience as an environmental lawyer making him unqualified to run the Justice Department, let alone speak with authority on voter fraud.
Donoghue warned Trump that a wave of resignations would come if Clark was appointed. Rosen and Donoghue had confirmed with several of the assistant attorneys general ahead of the White House meeting that much of the leadership of the department would swiftly resign if Clark became acting attorney general.
“Your entire department leadership will walk out within hours, and I don’t know what’s going to happen after that,” Donoghue recalled saying to Trump. “Mr. President, within 24, 48, 72 hours you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations in the leadership of your entire justice department because of your actions. What’s that going to say about you?”
Cipollone described the plan as a “murder-suicide pact.” Engel pointed out that Clark would be “left leading a graveyard” after all the resignations.
The witnesses testified this point seemed to stick with Trump. The meeting ended and Trump ultimately did not appoint Clark.
The committee closed the hearing by pivoting to several Republican lawmakers who strategized with the Trump team in the post-election period. Testimony from former Trump aides revealed several lawmakers asked White House officials to arrange preemptive pardons.
The aides, including special assistant Cassidy Hutchinson and aide Johnny McEntee, said Reps. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz. 5th District), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas 1st District), Scott Perry (R-Pa. 10th District), Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga. 14th District) and Matt Gaetz (R-Fla. 1st District) all reached out to the White House asking for pardons.
The committee also presented an email from Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala. 5th District) sent on Jan. 11, 2021, seeking “all purpose” pardons for all 147 Republican lawmakers who objected to electoral votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Kinzinger pointed out it is unusual for the lawmakers to ask for a pardon unless they believed they did something wrong.
Thursday's hearing will be the last hearing for the month of June.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss. 2nd District) said hearings will continue after Congress' July Fourth recess. The House returns July 11, meaning the middle of next month would be the earliest hearings could resume.
Thompson said the committee continues to receive evidence relevant to the investigation, and the committee will need additional hearings to lay out that information.
One of the more notable pieces of evidence is footage from a filmmaker, Alex Holder, who followed Trump and his inner circle during the campaign. Politico first reported Tuesday that the committee has subpoenaed Holder for the raw footage of interviews with the former president, among other subjects.
Updated on June 23, 2022, at 7:21 p.m. ET with a full Cheddar write-through.