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Sunday, June 26, 2022

1/6 panel hears about Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department

ERIC TUCKER

WASHINGTON ( Associated Press) — Donald Trump pursued the Justice Department to investigate his false allegations of electoral fraud, seeking in vain to enlist the support of top law enforcement officials in his desperate bid to stay in power and staged a dramatic showdown in the Oval Office in which he weighed in for a replacement. a leader with a more obedient lower-level official, according to Thursday’s testimony from a House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riots.

Three Trump-era Justice Department officials spoke of the president’s relentless pressure campaign, including day-by-day directives sent out to pursue unsubstantiated allegations that the election won by Democrat Joe Biden was stolen. Officials described the continued contact as a flagrant breach of protocol for a department that values ​​its independence from the White House, but said they rejected every demand because there was no evidence of widespread electoral fraud.

“I think that if the department intervened in the political process in this way, it would have serious consequences for the country, which could well lead us into a constitutional crisis,” said Richard Donoghue, acting official No. 2 in the finale. Trump administration days.

The president, he said, had “an arsenal of accusations.” I went through them piece by piece to say, no, that’s not true.”

Another witness, Jeffrey Rosen, who was acting attorney general, said that Trump called or met with him virtually every day from the time he took office in late December 2020 until early January 2021, with a common theme being “discontent about what The Department of Justice has done to investigate electoral fraud.”

It all boils down to a “daring attempt” to use the Justice Department for their own political gain, Rep. Benny Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the committee on Jan. 6, said.

“Donald Trump didn’t just want the Justice Department to investigate,” Thompson said. “He wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies, effectively call the election corrupt” and appoint a special prosecutor. The Justice Department resisted every demand.

Testimony also focused on a tense standoff in the Oval Office on January 3, 2021, in which Trump considered replacing Rosen with a lower-level official, Jeffrey Clark, who wanted to support Trump’s fictitious claims of electoral fraud. Donoghue and another senior Justice Department official, Stephen Engel, warned Trump that there would be mass resignations in the department if Trump went through with his plan. Only then did Trump relent.

Clark’s name was mentioned early in the hearing when Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, derided him as a lawyer whose only qualification was his loyalty to Trump. Clark’s lawyer did not respond to an email before the hearing.

Who is Jeff Clark? Kinzinger asked rhetorically. “He would do anything the president would want him to do, including overthrowing free and fair democratic elections.”

Just an hour before the hearing began, it emerged that federal agents had searched Clark’s home in Virginia this week, according to a person familiar with the matter, who was not authorized to discuss it by name and spoke on condition of anonymity. A spokesman for the US Attorney confirmed the presence of law enforcement activity in Virginia, where Clark lives, but did not say what it was about.

The commission’s hearing was the fifth this month by a House committee investigating preparations for an uprising at the Capitol, with Trump supporters storming the building as lawmakers certified the results of an election won by Biden. Witnesses included police officers attacked at the Capitol, as well as lawyers, a television executive and local election officials who resisted demands to change the results in favor of Trump.

Last week, the committee released a videotaped testimony of former Attorney General William Barr, who criticized Trump’s allegations of fraud and resigned after failing to convince the president.

Thursday’s hearing focused on what happened next as Rosen, Barr’s first deputy, took over the department and immediately found himself under siege from Trump’s demands for action.

In one phone call, according to handwritten notes taken by Donoghue and highlighted at Thursday’s hearing, Trump told Rosen, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the congressmen.”

Around the same time, Republican Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania introduced Trump to Clark, who joined the department in 2018 as its chief environmental lawyer and was later appointed head of its civilian division. Clark was subpoenaed by the committee but was not among the witnesses on Thursday. Lawmakers on Thursday released video footage of testimony in which he repeatedly invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Clark, according to statements by other Justice Department officials, met with Trump despite being ordered not to by the Department of Justice officials and said he was seeking to help the president in his efforts to challenge the election results. A report released last year by the Senate Judiciary Committee that portrayed Clark as a tireless supporter of Trump included a draft letter urging Georgian officials to call a special legislative session to review the election results.

Clarke wanted the letter to be sent, but his superiors at the Justice Department refused.

Things came to a head on Sunday, January 3, 2021, when Clark told Rosen in a private meeting at the Justice Department that Trump wanted to replace him with Clark as acting attorney general. Rosen, who has resisted the idea of ​​being fired by subordinates, said on Thursday that he had contacted senior Justice Department officials to rally them and also demanded a meeting at the White House.

That night, Rosen, Donoghue, and Engel, along with Clark, gathered with Trump and top White House lawyers for hours in the Oval Office debating whether the president should go ahead with his plans for a sweeping leadership change in the department.

According to Rosen’s testimony, Trump opened the meeting by saying, “One thing we know is that you, Rosen, are not going to do anything to cancel the election.”

Donoghue and Engel made it clear to Trump that they and many other Justice Department officials would resign if Trump fired Rosen. The same was stated by the White House lawyers. Pat Cipollone, then a White House adviser, said the letter Clarke wanted to send was “a murder-suicide pact.”

“Steve Engel said at one point, “Jeff Clarke will run the cemetery. And what are you going to do with the cemetery?” what will be the outcome of the leadership,” Donoghue told the Senate Judiciary Committee. “So the president was told very bluntly that this was going to happen.”

Donoghue also tried to dissuade Trump from thinking that Clark had a legal basis for doing what the president wanted because he was not a criminal prosecutor for the department.

“And he kind of retorted, saying, ‘Well, I’ve filed a lot of very complicated appeals and civil lawsuits, environmental lawsuits and things like that,’” Donoghue said. “And I said, ‘That’s right. You are an environmental lawyer. How about we go back to your office and we’ll call you when the oil spill happens?

___

Associated Press contributors Michael Balsamo and Farnoush Amiri of Washington contributed to this report.

Full coverage of the January 6 hearing can be found at https://www.apnews.com/capitol-siege.

World Nation News Desk
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