Jan. 6 hearing: Trump told DOJ officials ‘just say it was corrupt, and leave the rest up to me’

Trump told DOJ officials
Trump told DOJ officials

Evidence presented by the House Jan. 6 committee Thursday suggests that former President Trump sought inside help from the Justice Department to execute his campaign to reverse the 2020 election.

“Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump implored top Justice officials in a Dec. 27, 2020, conversation memorialized in then-acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue’s contemporaneous notes.

The president threatened to replace Rosen with Jeff Clark, an inexperienced loyalist who had drafted a letter claiming the election’s outcome was in doubt and urging states to certify slates of fake electors, according to testimony presented on Thursday. Both Donoghue and then-Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen had previously rebuffed Trump’s pressure.

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According to multiple witnesses, White House counsel Pat Cipollone described the letter as a “murder-suicide pact” that would “damage everyone who touches it” in a heated meeting in the Oval Office on January 3. In the same meeting three days before Congress’ official tally of electors, Trump considered promoting Clark to head the Justice Department in order to guarantee that the letter would be sent to swing states.

Trump Made Statements to DOJ officials

The way Trump has treated Justice Department employees is just one piece of evidence, according to committee members, that shows the former president planned and executed a massive effort to overturn his loss. While Trump was pressuring the Justice Department, his lawyers were pressuring state officials to change election results and assembling fake elector slates.

Since the Watergate scandal, most presidents have tried to make it appear as though they give the Justice Department wide latitude to function independently and without political interference. But throughout his presidency, Trump tried to use the agency as his personal legal department, breaking with established protocol.

“It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Thursday.

Trump told DOJ officials
Trump told DOJ officials

Trump debated whether to replace the department head during their meeting on January 3, just three days before the Electoral College was officially certified by Congress.

“What do I have to lose?” he asked.

However, this conversation took place at a time when he was particularly focused on coming across as confident and steady. Advisers warned him that putting Clark in charge of Justice would lead to an embarrassing exodus of employees. Clark, who was present, was told he could not lead the agency by his advisers.

Finally, Trump gave in. Clark did not get a promotion. That letter never made it out the door.

Trump’s attempt to enlist the nation’s top law enforcement officials, however, is consistent with the committee’s case that he intended to use any and all means at his disposal — regardless of laws, norms, or precedent — to defy voters and cling to power.

From about the 6th of January onward, Clark has emerged as a key player in the investigation. A spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said that federal agents went to Clark’s house on Wednesday. Former Trump administration official and Center for Renewing America employer Russ Vought has spoken out against the “raid” as being motivated by politics.

Thursday, three witnesses, Rosen, Donoghue, and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel, were questioned by Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel.

Former Attorney General Bill Barr testified on record before the panel and said he told President Trump in December 2020 that the election was not stolen. After telling The Associated Press that the Justice Department had found no evidence of fraud, Barr resigned before the end of the year.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) made a promise at an earlier hearing to reveal the identities of lawmakers who had asked Trump for pardons in his final days in office. On Thursday, the Committee delivered, playing recorded testimony about Rep. Matt Gaetz’s attempt to secure a broad pardon from Trump.

Several other Republican lawmakers, including Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas), Scott Perry (R-Pa.), and Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.) were also named as having asked for pardons, as the committee revealed that it had received evidence of this.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) reportedly asked for forgiveness on behalf of himself and his fellow lawmakers who opposed certifying electors.

Some committee members say they see signs of a shift against the former president, but it is not yet clear whether the hearings are having a significant effect on public opinion about Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 insurrection or his fitness for office.

“There are a lot of folks around the edge, particularly in the Republican Party and elsewhere, that didn’t know the complete story,” Kinzinger told NBC News in an interview. “And now when they see the complete story, they’re really awestruck by it, and how close we got and how brazen this attempt was to change the election.”

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