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Jan. 6 committee accuses Trump of trying use Justice Department in ‘brazen’ effort to keep power: Live updates

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 6 days ago Bart Jansen, Chelsey Cox, Maureen Groppe, Erin Mansfield, Kenneth Tran, Katherine Swartz, Merdie Nzanga and David Jackson, USA TODAY

WASHINGTON – Former President Donald Trump's threat to oust his attorney general in favor of someone more willing to pursue his baseless claims of election fraud are the focus the House Jan. 6 committee's hearing Thursday.

The latest:

  • White House lawyer's warning: Trump White House Counsel John Herschmann said he told former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark his first act as attorney general would be to commit a felony if he went through with a plan to tell six swing states to send alternate slates of Trump electors to Congress.
  • Who are the GOP lawmakers who sought Trump pardons?: The committee has alleged that some GOP lawmakers asked for pardons over their actions related to Jan. 6. Committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney said Thursday's hearing would close with video testimony from three Trump staff members who would identify the lawmakers.
  • 'Just say it was corrupt': Richard Donoghue, a senior Justice Department official, testified that Trump leaned on DOJ to declare voter fraud in the 2020 election. "Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen," Trump said, according to Donoghue.

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Clark had unauthorized meeting with Trump before Christmas

Clark had a meeting with Trump just before Christmas, in violation of Department of Justice policies and much to his superiors’ chagrin, Rosen testified.

“You didn’t tell me about it, it wasn’t authorized, and you didn’t even tell me after the fact,” Rosen said he told Clark the day after Christmas. “This is not appropriate.” Rosen said Clark told him it was unplanned, expressed regret and assured he would make sure he notified appropriate department leaders in the future.  

Steven Engel, who was the assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel, told the committee that when it comes to sensitive matters, only top Department officials are supposed to talk to the White House in order to make sure investigations are “free from either the reality or the appearance of political interference.”

- Erin Mansfield

Giuliani: Trump wanted DOJ officials who weren’t ‘frightened’

Rep. Adam Kinzinger recited evidence of lawmakers meeting Trump at the White House Dec. 21, 2020, to discuss the election and then Rep. Scott Perry returning the next day to introduce Clark to Trump.

Trump’s campaign lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, described in a videotaped deposition why the president sought to give Clark election-related responsibilities.

“Beyond the president, I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation because the Justice Department was full of people like that,” Giuliani said.

Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general Trump sought to replace with Clark, said he wasn’t worried about his reputation when rejecting baseless claims of election fraud.

“No, not at all,” Rosen said.

- Bart Jansen

Donoghue took notes during Trump call

Donoghue said he took notes during a Dec. 27, 2020 phone call with Trump during which Trump pressed Donoghue and acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen about an “arsenal of allegations” of election fraud he wanted investigated.

Donoghue said he grabbed a notepad from his wife’s nightstand when Trump mentioned an allegation he hadn’t yet heard. The committee displayed photos of some of those notes as Donoghue testified that he repeatedly tried to explain to Trump that the Justice Department has a limited role in state elections.

“The bottom line was if a state ran their election in such a way that it was defective, that is to the state, or Congress, to correct,” Donoghue said he told Trump. “It is not for the Justice Department to step in.”

- Maureen Groppe

Trump to Justice Department: 'Just say it was corrupt' 

Donoghue repeated to the committee one of the most famous Donald Trump lines of the entire 2020 election saga.

"Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen," Trump told Justice Department officials, Donoghue testified.

The committee is trying to show that Trump didn't care about the facts – he just wanted officials to declare voter fraud in order to justify his efforts to overturn the election.

- David Jackson 

Ex-Justice officials: Trump spent hours lobbing baseless election fraud claims

Donoghue told the committee about a two-hour meeting with Trump on Jan. 27 where the former president threw an “arsenal of allegations” of election fraud at Donoghue to be addressed. 

Donoghue said he was “very blunt” with Trump about the evidence, denying each of Trump's baseless claims.

One claim was over a private report that alleged a 68% voting error rate from voting machines in Antrim County, Michigan. Donoghue told Trump that in the county there was only one error, at a rate of .0063%. 

- Katherine Swartz

Kinzinger criticizes fellow Republicans for amplifying Trump's false claims

Kinzinger criticized his Republican colleagues in the House for amplifying Trump’s false claims of election fraud despite Barr saying “publicly that President Trump’s claims had no merit.” The committee played video clips of Republican congressmen who repeated Trump’s claims.

Rep. Loui Gohmert, R-Texas, said there was "widespread evidence" of election fraud. Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., told supporters that the courts were "pathetic."

“I’m joining with the fighters in the Congress and we are going to object to electors from states who didn’t run clean elections,” Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., yelled to supporters at a Turning Point summit.

- Kenneth Tran

Trump seized on report blaming Dominion Voter Systems in Michigan  

Trump used the results of a report released Dec. 15 about Dominion Voter Systems, including a widely debunked theory about errors and bias in Antrim County, Michigan, to try to convince Department of Justice officials he won the election.

“He was adamant that the report must be accurate, that it proved that the election was defective, that he in fact won the election, and the Department should be using that report to tell the American people that the results were not trustworthy,” Donoghue testified Thursday.  

Donoghue said the bulk of that conversation focused on Antrim County and the Dominion report by the Allied Security Operations Group.

- Erin Mansfield

Kinzinger: Trump's 'total disregard' for the Constitution to be 'exposed'

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill, addressed his colleagues at Thursday's hearing about Trump and his allies' steps to overrule the 2020 election. 

"Imagine the country's top prosecutor, power to open investigations or crimes and seek imprisonment. Imagine that official pursuing the agenda of the other party instead of that of the American people as a whole," Kinzinger said, addressing his Republican colleagues. He added, "And if you're a Democrat, imagine that the other way around? Today, President Trump's total disregard for the Constitution and as both will be fully exposed. "

- Merdie Nzanga

Committee to unveil names of Republicans who sought Jan. 6 pardons

The committee has provided a preview of coming attractions later today: The names of Republican lawmakers who sought presidential pardons over their actions related to Jan, 6.

Committee member Liz Cheney said the committee will close the hearing with video testimony from three Trump staff members.

"They will identify certain of the members of Congress who contacted the White House after January 6th to seek presidential pardons for their conduct," Cheney said.

Earlier this month, Cheney announced that Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., had sought a pardon; Perry denied it.

- David Jackson

Rosen: Trump urged DOJ officials repeatedly to investigate election fraud

Jeffrey Rosen, who served as acting attorney general during the final month of the Trump administration, said Trump called or met with Rosen and his deputy nearly every day after he started in the post on Dec. 23, 2020.

Rosen said Trump thought the Justice Department hadn’t done enough to investigate claims of election fraud. Trump asked Rosen about appointing a special counsel, asked Rosen to meet with election lawyer Rudy Giuliani and asked whether the department would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court.

“The Justice Department declined all of those requests that I was just referencing because we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them,” Rosen said.

- Bart Jansen

Witnesses: Jeffrey Clark wanted to be attorney general to help Trump 


Video: Jan. 6 committee to focus on Trump's efforts to pressure Justice Department (ABC News)

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The committee is showing video of witnesses trashing Clark, saying he sought the job of attorney general for the purpose of helping Trump steal the election.

One Trump aide described a Clark-proposed letter about fictional claims of election fraud as a "murder-suicide pact."

Both the committee and its witnesses will spend the day critiquing Clark's role in the plot that is also the subject of a Justice Department investigation.

- David Jackson

White House lawyer told Clark he would be committing a felony

Former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann was incredulous when he heard Clark wanted to tell six swing states they should send alternate electors to Congress to support Trump.

Trump was considering making Clark attorney general after Rosen wouldn’t go along with Clark’s plan. After unleashing some expletives, Herschmann said in videotaped testimony, he told Clark he’d just admitted that his first act as attorney general would be to commit a felony.

“You’re clearly the right candidate for this job,” Herschmann recalled sarcastically telling Clark.

- Maureen Groppe

Kinzinger: Trump pressured Justice Department to call election “corrupt”

In his opening statement to the committee, Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., spoke about the pressures Trump put on the Department of Justice leadership in a “last-ditch scheme” to keep Congress from certifying results of the 2020 election.

“If the department could just lend its credibility to the conspiracies, people would have the justification they needed to spread the big lie,” Kinzinger said of Trump’s intentions. 

Kinzinger also said: “So President Trump ultimately wanted the Department of Justice to say the election was ‘corrupt,’ and ‘leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.’ As you will hear today, the department’s top leadership refused.”

- Katherine Swartz

Barr wasn’t confident in orderly transition if DOJ didn’t investigate fraud

The Jan. 6 Committee revealed more from the deposition of former Attorney General Bill Barr. Under normal circumstances, allegations of fraud would be investigated long after an election, but Barr authorized the Department of Justice early on to investigate fraud.

Asked by the committee why, Barr said it was “the reasonable thing” to have a position on whether or not the 2020 election was fraudulent. “The fact that I put myself in the position that I could say we had looked at this and didn’t think there was fraud was really important to moving things forward,” said Barr.

Barr thought if there was no clear position from the DOJ, he wasn’t sure “we would have had a transition at all.”

- Kenneth Tran

Cheney highlights letter from Jeffrey Clark intended for Georgia officials

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., highlighted a letter that Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark and his counsel Kenneth Klukowski wrote in preparation to have acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and acting deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue sign.  

The draft letter, intended for officials in Georgia, said the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the State of Georgia” and recommended that the state legislature “convene in special session” to consider approving a new slate of elections.  

Cheney said the text of the letter was similar to what the committee has already revealed in communications from Trump attorneys John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani.

- Erin Mansfield

Thompson: Trump ‘brazen’ in trying to hold onto power

The chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, opened the hearing saying three former Justice Department officials would describe former Trump's urging them to call the election corrupt, to appoint a special counsel to investigate alleged fraud and to urge six state legislatures to alter their results.

“Together these public servants resisted Mr. Trump’s effort to misuse the Justice Department as part of his plan to hold onto power,” said Thompson, D-Miss. “It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president’s personal political agenda.”

- Bart Jansen

Actor Sean Penn attends hearing 

Actor and filmmaker Sean Penn sat next to Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department Officer, Michael Fanone, U.S. Capitol Police Officer Harry Dunn and U.S. Capitol Police Sgt. Sgt. Aquilino Gonell in the front row of the hearing room Thursday.

Penn, who was recently in Ukraine shooting a documentary for Vice about the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, has publicly condemned the Trump administration in the past.

- Chelsey Cox

Actor Sean Penn enters the hearing room before the start of the public hearing to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol on June 23, 2022 in Washington DC. © Jack Gruber, USA TODAY Actor Sean Penn enters the hearing room before the start of the public hearing to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol on June 23, 2022 in Washington DC.

Trump: Jan. 6 insurrectionists were "smart" and "angry" over election

Trump defended the Jan. 6 rioters shortly after the 2021 insurrection, calling them "smart" and "angry" over the events of the 2020 presidential election.

“Well, it was a sad day, but it was a day where there was great anger in our country,” Trump told a documentary filmmaker whose video has been subpoenaed by the special congressional committee investigating Jan. 6.

CNN – whose parent company owns Discovery Plus, which will release the documentary – is broadcasting some of the video clips.

In an interview, Trump also said regarding the rioters: “People went to Washington primarily because they were angry with an election that they think was rigged."

Claiming only "a very small portion" of his supporters broke into the U.S. Capitol that day, Trump said: "They were angry from the standpoint of what happened in the election. Because they’re smart, and they see and they saw what happened, and I believe that that was a big part of what happened on Jan. 6.”

- David Jackson

Feds descend on home of ex-Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark

Federal authorities on Wednesday were at the suburban Virginia home of former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark, once central to Donald Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, two people familiar with the matter said Thursday.

Clark is expected to be a central figure in Thursday's hearing of the House Jan. 6 committee, which will outline Trump's unsuccessful plan to install him as acting attorney general to pursue false allegations of election fraud.

A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., confirmed that law enforcement activity occurred in the general vicinity of Clark's home, but declined to describe the purpose of the action. 

- Kevin Johnson

Documentarian who filmed Trump gives committee deposition

The British documentarian who filmed former President Donald Trump and his children before and after the Capitol attack on Jan. 6, 2021, confirmed in a tweet he gave the House investigative panel a deposition Thursday.

Alex Holder provided the committee with recordings of Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump Jr., among others he collected for a three-part documentary scheduled for release this summer. But Holder declined further comment.

“As I’ve stated previously, I have provided the committee with all requested materials and am fully cooperating with the investigation,” Holder said.

- Bart Jansen

DOJ showdown with Trump in Oval Office

Three days before the Capitol attack – Jan. 3, 2021 – Trump called an Oval Office meeting with Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and White House lawyers to discuss firing Acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and replacing him with Clark.

Donoghue said Rosen was put in the awkward position of defending his own job during the two-and-a-half hour confrontation. Donoghue derided Clark as an environmental lawyer who had never prosecuted a criminal case or argued before a jury.

“You’re going to hurt the country, you’re going to hurt the department, you’re going to hurt yourself, with people grasping at straws on these desperate theories about election fraud, and is this really in anyone’s best interest,” Donoghue said he told Trump.

More: Who has been subpoenaed so far by the Jan. 6 committee?

Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Oct. 21, 2020. Clark, who aligned himself with former President Donald Trump after he lost the 2020 election, has declined to be fully interviewed by a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. © Yuri Gripas, AP Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington on Oct. 21, 2020. Clark, who aligned himself with former President Donald Trump after he lost the 2020 election, has declined to be fully interviewed by a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Who is Jeffrey Clark?

Clark, who worked off and on at the Justice Department since 2001, was Trump’s assistant attorney general for the environment and he became acting head of the civil division Sept. 3, 2020. Clark and Rosen had a long relationship after working at the same law firm.

But Donoghue said Rosen got angry when Clark requested a classified briefing about allegations the Chinese had internet access to U.S. voting machines through smart thermostats. Donoghue called the allegation “very odd” in his deposition.

Clark drafted a letter Dec. 28, 2020, for whoever was attorney general to send to six states that Biden won, suggesting legislative leaders could send alternate electors to Congress supporting Trump. Donoghue told Clark his factual claim was wrong and the Justice Department doesn’t provide quality control for state elections – states run their own elections.

Clark refused to answer committee questions by citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Rosen: Trump claims of election fraud 'debunked'

Jeffrey Rosen served as acting attorney general for the final month of the Trump administration, after former Attorney General Bill Barr resigned in part over president's spurious claims of fraud.

Rosen told the committee Trump would ask about election fraud allegations he'd seen on television or heard from people in Georgia or Pennsylvania that had already been debunked.

“We were in a position to say people already looked at that and we know you’re getting bad information. That’s not correct. It’s been demonstrated to be not correct," Rosen said. "In our point of view, it was debunked.”

a group of people looking at a cell phone: Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen will succeed Attorney General William Barr when he steps down Dec. 23. © Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen will succeed Attorney General William Barr when he steps down Dec. 23.

Donoghue told Trump his claims of election fraud were unsubstantiated

Richard Donoghue, Rosen's deputy, told the committee he bluntly confronted Trump over the baseless claims after overseeing dozens of investigations involving hundreds of interviews. But each time he batted away a claim, Trump would suggest another.

Donoghue said an error rate for Michigan ballots was exaggerated by 10,000 times and occurred in only one case in 15,000. After a Pennsylvania truck driver said he transported ballots from New York, investigators interviewed people who loaded and unloaded the truck – and found the allegation unsupported, he said. In Georgia, a report of a suitcase of fraudulent ballots was entirely false, with the container mistaken for the wheeled bin that stored legitimate ballots, he said.

"There are so many of these allegations that when you gave him a very direct answer on one of them, he wouldn’t fight us on it, but he would go through another allegation," Donoghue said.

A video of former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue is shown on a screen during the second hearing held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 13, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. © Pool, Getty Images A video of former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue is shown on a screen during the second hearing held by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 13, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

Trump relented after top lawyers threatened to resign

Despite the opposition, Trump wanted to replace Rosen with Clark because Clark argued more aggressively to challenge state election results that favored President Joe Biden. Clark drafted a letter Dec. 28, 2020, to officials in six states urging legislatures to investigate and potentially reject Biden electors.

All the lawyers in the meeting – Rosen, Donoghue, Engel, White House counsel Pat Cipollone, deputy counsel Pat Philbin and Eric Herschmann – each opposed the ouster other than Clark.

"The president said, 'Suppose I do this. Suppose I replace him, Jeff Rosen, with him, Jeff Clark. What do you do?' And I said, 'Sir, I would resign immediately,'" Donoghue said in a videotaped deposition. "There is no way I'm serving one minute under this guy, Jeff Clark."

Trump relented when all the other lawyers threatened to quit.

"That letter is a murder-suicide pact," Donoghue quoted Cipollone as saying. "It's going to damage everyone who touches it."

Poll: Majority of Americans following Jan. 6 hearings

A majority of Americans say they are following the House committee investigating the Capitol attack Jan. 6, 2021, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday.

The poll found 58% of Americans following the committee’s work, including 26% following “very closely” and 32% “somewhat closely,” according to the poll June 17 to 20 of 1,524 adults with a margin of error of 2.5%.

The jury is still out on whether charges are warranted against former President Donald Trump. A 59% majority said he bears a measure of responsibility for the attack. But respondents split evenly – 46% to 47% – over whether he should be charged criminally.

“It’s a toss-up,” said Quinnipiac polling analyst Tim Malloy. “There is no consensus.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan. 6 committee accuses Trump of trying use Justice Department in ‘brazen’ effort to keep power: Live updates

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