5 Takeaways From Thursday’s Jan. 6 Hearing
The House Committee’s fifth hearing focused on President Donald J. Trump’s attempts to use the Justice Department’s powers to remain in office. Based on testimony from three top former Justice Department officials who played central roles in the episode, the commission explained in detail how Mr. Trump and his allies in the Department and on Capitol Hill attempted to install a loyalist on top of the Department. of Justice and the election results of a key swing state.
Here are five key takeaways.
It was the most blatant attempt to use the Justice Department for political ends, at least since Watergate.
Mr Trump aggressively pursued a plan to appoint as acting attorney general a little-known Justice Department official, Jeffrey Clark, who was willing to take steps to reverse the election results. As they fought to avert the move, a group of attorneys from the White House and the Justice Department leadership feared the plan was so ill-considered and unfair that the country would have plunged into constitutional crisis if it had succeeded.
The president came so close to appointing Mr. Clark that the White House began naming him the acting attorney general in its call logs as early as January 3, 2021. Later that day, Mr. Trump had a dramatic Oval Office showdown with top Justice Department officials and White House attorneys, who told Mr. Trump there would be a “graveyard” at the Department of Justice if he met Mr. Clark would hire because so many top executives would resign.
At the meeting, Mr. Trump reprimanded the acting Attorney General, Jeffrey A. Rosen, for refusing to do more to help him track down voter fraud. It was only after hours of discussions — partly about the lack of substance behind Trump’s vote-rigging claims, but also the political consequences for him if he took action that led to the exodus of top Justice Department officials — that Mr. Trump relented and turned back. of his plan to replace Mr. Rosen with Mr. Clark.
The core of the plan was a draft letter to officials in Georgia.
Central to the plan was a letter prepared by Mr. Clark and another Trump loyalist that they hoped to send to state officials in Georgia. The letter falsely claimed that the department had evidence of electoral fraud that could lead the state to deny the certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s victory. to reconsider there. The letter recommended that the state convene its legislature to study allegations of voter fraud and consider naming an alternative list of voters pledged to Mr Trump.
Trump’s top officials and Mr. Trump’s legal team at the White House were all shocked by the letter because it would give the appearance of the country’s top law enforcement agencies to allegations of voter fraud that the department had repeatedly investigated and found to be unfounded. The letter was so outrageous that top White House attorney Eric Herschmann testified that he told Mr. Clark that if he became Attorney General and sent the letter, he would be committing a crime.
Justice Department deputy deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue testified at the hearing that sending it would amount to Justice Department interference in the election results.
“I think if the department had entered the political process in this way, it would have had serious consequences for the country,” said Mr Donoghue. “It may have put us in a constitutional crisis.”
Trump wouldn’t give up on his fraud claims.
Time and again, the White House has brought baseless and sometimes ludicrous allegations of electoral fraud — including Internet conspiracy theories — to Justice Department officials so they could use the country’s law enforcement powers to investigate them. And time and again, the department and the FBI found that the claims were false.
The pattern became so extraordinary that at one point White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows sent a YouTube video to the department officials of Pennsylvania Republican Representative Scott Perry alleging that an Italian defense contractor had uploaded software to a satellite that carries the voices of Mr. Trump.
The themes of the House Committee hearings on January 6
A top Defense Department official, Kashyap Patel, contacted Mr. Donoghue about the claim, and the Acting Defense Secretary, Christopher C. Miller, contacted a defense attaché in Italy to discuss the claim, who never was substantiated.
About 90 minutes after Mr. Donoghue mr. Trump had persuaded Mr. Clark as Acting Attorney General, Mr. Trump still couldn’t get it out and called Mr. an immigration and customs officer in Georgia had confiscated a truckload of shredded ballots. There appeared to be nothing wrong, Mr Donoghue testified.
Trump considered appointing a loyalist lawyer as special counsel.
While Mr. Trump was looking for a way to substantiate the false claims of fraud, he attempted to install a loyalist as special counsel to investigate them. One of Mr. Trump’s personal attorneys, Sidney Powell — who had become a public face of Mr Trump’s efforts to undo the election — said in a commission played testimony that Mr. Trump discussed with her the possibility to take up that position in December .
The commission also played testimony from William P. Barr, who served as Attorney General until mid-December 2020, saying there was no basis for appointing special counsel. And the committee suggested the idea was part of the larger effort to cast doubt on the legitimacy of Mr Biden’s victory and open the door for Congress to consider alternate slates of Trump voters from swing states.
“So let’s think about this, what would a special counsel do?” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, Illinois Republican, who led the day’s questioning. “With only a few days to go until election certification, it wasn’t something to investigate. An investigation, led by special counsel, would only create an illusion of legitimacy and provide false cover for those who would object, including those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6.”
Mr. Kinzinger added, “All President Trump’s plans for the Justice Department were rejected.”
Members of Congress asked for a clemency — and Trump considered the requests.
In the days following Jan. 6, several of Mr. Trump’s political allies on Capitol Hill, who had helped stoke the false election claims and attempts to nullify the results, asked for a pardon from Mr. Trump, who considered granting them. according to a testimony on Thursday.
Among those seeking pardon was Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz. Mr. Gaetz sought a general pardon that would essentially cover all the crimes he had committed in his entire life. Although it was not publicly known at the time, Mr. Gaetz is under a Justice Department investigation for paying a 17-year-old girl for sex.
“The general tone was, ‘We could be prosecuted for defending the president’s views on these matters,'” White House attorney Mr. Herschmann said in a video clip of his testimony. ‘The grace he asked for was as broad as you could describe. I remember him saying, ‘From the beginning of time to today. For all things.’”
“Nixon’s grace was never so broad,” Herschmann recalled when he responded to the request.
A whole host of other allies called for them. Rep. Mo Brooks, Republican from Alabama, sent an email to the White House requesting a so-called preemptive pardon for all members of the House and Senate who voted to vote for the Electoral College’s explanations of Mr. Biden’s victories. in Arizona and Pennsylvania.
Meadows’ former aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, testified that several other members of the Republican House expressed an interest in pardoning, including Mr. Perry and Representatives Louis Gohmert of Texas and Andy Biggs of Arizona.
Ms. Hutchinson said she also heard that Georgia Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene had contacted White House counsel’s office about pardons.
Mr. Trump “had hinted at a general pardon for the Jan. 6 thing for everyone,” said former chief of Trump’s presidential staff John McEntee.
Mr Kinzinger suggested that the pardons were evidence that Mr Trump’s allies were guilty.
“The only reason I know of asking for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime,” he said.
Chris Cameron contributed reporting.