(C) Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former US President Donald Trump displayed on a screen during a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol in Washington, DC, U.S. June 21, 2022. Al Drago/Pool via REUTERS
By Richard Cowan, Moira Warburton and Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Donald Trump pressured top Justice Department officials nearly daily in the run-up to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, urging officials to reverse his 2020 election defeat so that he could illegally hold onto power.
That was the testimony on Thursday by Jeffrey Rosen, a former acting attorney general during former President Trump’s administration, to the U.S. House of Representatives select committee on Jan. 6.
Rosen said in the days leading up to Jan. 6, when Congress met to formally certify Democrat Joe Biden as the next president, Trump repeatedly “asserted the Department of Justice had not done enough” to investigate false allegations that the election had been “stolen” through voter fraud.
“Between Dec. 23, (2020), and Jan. 3, (2021), the president either called or met with me virtually every day, with one or two exceptions such as Christmas Day,” Rosen testified.
Rosen also testified that Trump raised the possibility of a “special counsel” being appointed to investigate election fraud and that Rosen meet with Trump associates including Rudy Giuliani, who were pushing the false election-fraud narrative.
Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified that Trump had said to Justice Department officials: “What I’m just asking you to do is say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
Former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who served under Trump’s Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, tweeted: “This is the smoking gun. Coupled with other testimony demonstrates both Trump’s substantive involvement and corrupt intent, requisite state of mind.”
The committee also put at the center of Thursday’s hearing the activities of Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official and fervent Trump ally.
Clark’s failed efforts to become acting attorney general, replacing Rosen, were detailed, along with his push to have the Justice Department write letters urging several election battleground states to take steps to declare Trump the 2020 winner, instead of Democrat Joe Biden, who won both the popular vote and Electoral College vote by wide margins.
“Donald Trump offered Mr. Clark the job of acting attorney general, replacing Mr. Rosen, with the understanding that Mr. Clark would send this letter and take other actions the president requested,” said Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the committee vice chair.
The idea was forcefully opposed by Justice Department officials, some of whom threatened to resign if it went forward.
The hearing kicked off shortly after it was disclosed that federal law enforcement had raided Clark’s home.
“Donald Trump didn’t just want the Justice Department to investigate. He wanted the Justice Department to legitimize his lies,” committee chairperson Bennie Thompson said as the hearing began.
Russ Vought, the former director of the U.S. Office of Management and Budget who recently hired Clark to work for his legal advocacy group Center for Renewing America, confirmed the raid of Clark’s home on Twitter (NYSE:TWTR).
He said more than a dozen federal law enforcement officials searched Clark’s house in a pre-dawn raid, “put him in the streets in his pjs, and took his electronic devices.”
The U.S. Attorney’s Office confirmed there was law enforcement activity on Wednesday in the Lorton, Virginia, suburb of Washington near where Clark lives, but declined to elaborate.
Also testifying on Thursday was former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel.
Clark provided a deposition to the select committee, and the committee showed excerpts of it in which he repeatedly invoked his legal right not to answer questions. On Twitter earlier this year, Clark called himself “one of the top targets of the politically motivated J6 committee.”
According to committee aides, Justice Department officials were asked to take steps to encourage some states, such as Arizona and Georgia, to engineer Trump victories even though Biden was the winner in those contests.
The Justice Department is investigating whether there was a plot to advance alternative slates of fake electors in battleground states with the goal of overturning the election result.
According to one subpoena seen by Reuters that is focused on the phony slate of electors in Georgia, investigators are seeking copies of documents from October 2020 related to “any effort, plan or attempt to serve as an elector in favor of Donald J. Trump and/or (Vice President) Mike R. Pence.”
They also are seeking copies of communications between would-be electors and any federal government employees, as well as communications involving Trump allies, including lawyers Giuliani and John Eastman.
In a fiery speech outside the White House on Jan. 6, Trump repeated his false claims of election fraud. His supporters stormed the Capitol, sending lawmakers and Pence fleeing for their lives.
Four people died on Jan. 6, one shot by police and the others of natural causes. Some 140 police officers were injured, and one who fought rioters died the next day. Four officers later died by suicide.