High drama as Jan. 6 hearing details Trump's effort to corrupt Justice Department

·10 min read
High drama as Jan. 6 hearing details Trump's effort to corrupt Justice Department

Thursday's hearing of the Jan. 6 committee focused on the pressure then-President Donald Trump and his allies put on the Justice Department to help overturn the 2020 election.

Latest Developments

Jun 23, 5:56 PM

Previewing next hearing, chair calls Jan. 6 attack 'backup plan' in a 'political coup'

Summing up the hearing, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., said Trump continuing to push the lie of a stolen election and pressure his officials to break the law was "about protecting his very real power and very real fragile ego -- even if it required recklessly undermining our entire electoral system by wildly casting faceless doubt upon it."

"In short, he was willing to sacrifice our republic to prolong this presidency. I can imagine no more dishonorable act by a president," he said.

PHOTO: A video featuring a picture from a White House meeting with President Donald Trump is played during the fifth hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 23, 2022. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
PHOTO: A video featuring a picture from a White House meeting with President Donald Trump is played during the fifth hearing by the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol in Washington, June 23, 2022. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., closed by previewing the focus of hearings to come in July, calling the Jan. 6 mob attack on the Capitol Trump's "backup plan of stopping the transfer of power" if he couldn't get away with a "political coup."

"We are going to show how Donald Trump tapped into the threat of violence, how he summoned a mob to Washington and how -- after corruption and political pressure failed to keep Donald Trump in office -- violence became the last option," he said.

Jun 23, 5:42 PM

Trump considered ‘blanket pardons’ for everyone involved in Jan. 6

In a taped deposition, former director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office John McEntee said he witnessed Trump having conversations about the possibility of a "blanket pardon" for all those involved in Jan. 6.

When asked by the committee if Trump thought about pardons for his family members, McEntee said Trump had hinted at a blanket pardon "for all the staff and everyone involved" before he left office.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger responded to that by saying, "The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you have committed a crime."

Jun 23, 5:53 PM

Trump WH officials testify which GOP representatives asked for presidential pardons

In a series of stunning taped testimony, former White House officials said several Republican members of Congress -- including Rep. Matt Gaetz, Rep. Scott Perry, Rep. Louie Gohmert, Rep. Andy Biggs, Rep. Paul Gosar, and Rep. Mo Brooks -- asked the White House for pardons in some form in the final days of the Trump administration following the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

"Every Congressman and Senator who voted to reject the electoral college vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania," read an email from Brooks, requesting pardons for himself, Gaetz and others involved in election objections.

Former aide to Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson, also said Rep. Jim Jordan talked with the White House about pardon updates for members of Congress but did not specifically ask.

"The general tone was, we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of, you know, the president's positions on these things," recalled former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann.

"I know he had hinted at a blanket pardon for the January 6 thing for anybody, but I think he had all the staff and everyone involved, not January 6, but just before he left office," said former Trump White House aide John McEntee in a taped deposition. "I know he had talked about that."

"The only reason I know that you ask for a pardon is that you think you committed a crime," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

Jun 23, 5:15 PM

Official recalls asking DOJ head of national security to stay on amid mass resignation planning

Former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue illustrated how serious discussions were of mass resignations at the Justice Department as Trump threatened to replace his attorney general with a lower-level official who supported his plan to overturn the election, describing his fears of the potential impact that it could have in the final days of Trump administration.

Donoghue said he pleaded separately with the head of DOJ's national security division, John Demers, to not be among those who would resign.

"I prefaced the call by saying, 'John, we need you to stay in place. National security is too important and we need to minimize the disruption,'" Donoghue said in the hearing.

Donoghue said while Demers showed a willingness to resign, he agreed with Donoghue's assessment, as they imagined what would happen to the nation's top law enforcement agency should all the top officials resign.

"As Steve Engel noted, the goal was to make clear to Trump he would leave Clark leading a "graveyard," a comment that "clearly had an impact on the president," Donoghue said.

Jun 23, 5:17 PM

Trump on trying to change DOJ leadership: ‘What do I have to lose?’

While discussing whether to fire a top official in the Department of Justice in a 2.5 hour meeting at the Oval Office on Jan. 3, 2021, Trump turned to officials in the room and asked them a question, former deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue testified Thursday.

"What do I have to lose?" Trump asked, according to Donoghue.

"It was actually a good opening," Donoghue said. "And I began to explain to him what he had to lose, and what the county had to lose and what department had to lose, and this was not in anyone's best interest."

Donoghue said no one in the room supported Jeffrey Clark taking over as the department's top official, describing him to the president as unqualified. Clark at the time was a Trump-appointed Justice Department official overseeing the department's Civil Division and environmental enforcement matters.

Jun 23, 5:29 PM

Former DOJ leader tells Trump that attorneys general across US would resign 'en masse'

According to call logs displayed by the committee, the White House had already begun referring to Jeffrey Clark as "acting attorney general" on Jan. 3, 2021 -- despite Jeff Rosen, who wouldn't fall in line with election fraud conspiracies, actually serving as acting attorney general.

Trump also met with the aforementioned officials in the Oval Office on Jan. 3, and said, according to Rosen, "'Well the one thing we know is you're not gonna do anything. You don't even agree that the concerns that are being presented are valid. And here is someone who has a different view, so, why shouldn't I do that?'"

Former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue recalled asking attorney generals across the country what they would do if Clark was put in charge.

"All essentially said they would leave," he told the panel. "They would resign en masse if the president made that change in the department leadership."

Jun 23, 4:54 PM

Inside GOP Rep. Scott Perry's role in the DOJ pressure campaign

A hard-right conservative member of the House and leader of the House Freedom Caucus, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., has been one of Trump's most loyal supporters in Congress.

As the Jan. 6 committee laid out Thursday, that support continued after the 2020 election, when he was among the Republicans who met with Trump at the White House on Dec. 21, 2020, on how to continue challenging Joe Biden's victory and push claims of voter fraud.

The next day, Perry introduced Jeffery Clark to Trump in a White House meeting. Clark did not work on election issues at the Justice Department, and he met with the president without the knowledge of his superiors in violation of DOJ rules.

"So, for criminal matters, the policy for a long time has been the only the attorney general in the deputy attorney general from the DOJ side can have ... conversations with the White House," Jeffrey Rosen, the then-acting attorney general, told the committee.

Why was Clark recommended? Here's how Rudy Giuliani explained it, in his recorded interview with the committee: “I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn't frightened of what is going to be done to their reputation.”

Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general at the time, said Perry wanted Clark to "take over" the Justice Department, and pushed Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff and his former House colleague, to make it happen.

-ABC News' Benjamin Siegel

Jun 23, 4:57 PM

Trump defense secretary phoned Italy about conspiracy theory DOJ called 'patently absurd'

Former top Justice Department officials recalled being sent a 20-minute video on a far-right election conspiracy theory alleging Italy facilitated election interference, which former deputy acting attorney general Richard Donoghue called "patently absurd."

"I emailed the acting attorney general and said, 'pure insanity.' That was my impression of the video, which was patently absurd," he said.

The committee showed with texts how Rep. Scott Perry, R-Penn., whom Vice Chair Liz Cheney said in the first June hearing sought a presidential pardon from the White House in the days following the Jan. 6 attack, texted the conspiracy theory involving Italy to former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

"The select committee confirmed that a call was actually placed by Secretary [of Defense Chris] Miller to the attaché in Italy to investigate the claim that Italian satellites were switching votes from Trump to Biden. This is one of the best examples of the leaks to which President Trump would go to stay in power," said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill.

Jun 23, 4:52 PM

Trump, in emergency meeting, urged DOJ to seize voting machines, former officials say

Former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and his former deputy Richard Donoghue described Thursday how Trump tried to get the Department of Justice to seize voting machines in late 2020.

Donoghue said an "agitated" Trump called an emergency meeting on New Year's Eve to make the request.

"There was nothing wrong with them so we told him no," Rosen told the committee. "There was no factual basis nor was there any legal authority to do so."

"Toward the end of the meeting, the president, again, was getting very agitated," Donoghue recalled. "And he said, 'People tell me I should just get rid of both of you, I should just remove you and make a change in leadership, put Jeff Clark in, maybe something will finally get done.'"

Jun 23, 4:37 PM

DOJ attorney recalls rejecting Trump's 'meritless' proposed Supreme Court lawsuit

After detailing an effort by Jeffrey Clark to replace acting attorney general Jeff Rosen in order to help Trump overturn the election, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., turned to former top DOJ lawyer Steven Engel on other efforts by Trump to pressure the department.

After Trump sent a proposed draft lawsuit, done outside the department, to top DOJ attorneys that he wanted to send to the Supreme Court, Engel called it a "meritless lawsuit" and an "unusual request" that the department would never bring.

"Obviously, even the person who drafted this lawsuit didn't really understand in my view the law, and or how the Supreme Court works or the Department of Justice," Engel said.

Trump and the White House also asked the Department of Justice if it could point a special counsel to look at widespread election fraud -- which did not exist -- with Engel detailing why "that was not legally available," before Kinzinger claimed Trump even offered the position of special counsel to campaign attorney Sidney Powell, as his pressure campaign continued.

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