A string of former Trump Justice Department officials on Thursday revealed the extent of the former president’s campaign to pressure them to find evidence of voter fraud and overturn the 2020 election results, and more later, to reorganize the department when they refused.
The big picture: Officials recounted a series of instances in which they repeatedly told former President Trump that he was spewing conspiracy theories and that his allegations of voter fraud were not true. But Trump has found new ways — and brought in new people such as former assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark — to help push his fake narrative.
Why is this important: The DOJ is a nonpartisan entity meant to be completely independent of the White House. Testimony from senior Trump DOJ officials reveals the extent of his efforts to politicize and coerce the department into helping him overturn the election results.
Officials explained how they meticulously analyzed allegations of voter fraud by Trump and his team, and repeatedly shut them down. Trump refused to believe them, they said.
Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified that “virtually every day” Trump told her that the DOJ “did not do enough to investigate voter fraud.”
- Rosen said Trump questions appointing special counsel for voter fraud, urged him to meet with his campaign attorney Rudy Giuliani, asked if DOJ would take legal action in Supreme Court, wanted the department hold a press conference and – later – discussed asking the DOJ to send a letter to the state legislatures of Georgia and other states indicating that they had significant concerns that may have impacted the results elections.
- Rosen said Trump also suggested the DOJ seize state government voting machines, which he declined. “There was nothing wrong with the voting machines, so it was not something that was appropriate to do,” he testified. Trump grew increasingly frustrated with his response, he said.
Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified that Trump told the DOJ, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and [a] Republican congressman? ‘”
- Donoghue, however, clarified, “There have been isolated instances of fraud, none of which have come close to questioning the outcome of elections in any individual state.” They told Trump, he said.
- Donoghue also detailed how he looked into each of Trump’s voter fraud allegations, including “a driver who claimed to be moving a trailer of ballots from New York to Pennsylvania”: “We knew that wasn’t true,” did he declare.
Former Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel explained how Trump wanted the DOJ to send a complaint, drafted by Trump’s outside attorneys, to the Supreme Court regarding voter fraud.
- Engel said he and other DOJ officials opposed it. Engel said at the time, “There is no legal basis to bring this lawsuit. Anyone who thinks otherwise just doesn’t know the law, let alone the Supreme Court.”
- Engel also said the White House asked if Attorney General Bill Barr could appoint a state attorney general as a special adviser to investigate voter fraud.
Former DOJ officials testify Clark wanted to investigate voter fraud and for Trump to install him as attorney general, his plans to help advance voter fraud theories were ‘crazy’ and a ‘murder-suicide pact’ .
- Trump considered installing Clark, an environmental lawyer, as attorney general after Rosen refuted his fraud allegations.
- Clark wrote a draft letter saying the DOJ had evidence of fraud, which former White House attorney Pat Cipollone called a “murder-suicide pact” if he sent it to law enforcement officials. state, Donoghue recounted.
- Former White House attorney Eric Herschmann said in a pre-recorded deposition he told Clark, “F—ing A-hole, congratulations, you just admitted your first step would be done because AG would be committing a crime… You are clearly the right candidate for this job.”
Ousting Trump’s acting AG
- On January 3, Trump told Clark he would appoint him acting attorney general and began designating him as attorney general.
- Trump then called an Oval Office meeting and made his reasoning clear: his then-serving attorney general, Rosen, would not investigate the bogus fraud allegations, but Clark would.
- Donoghue, who declared Clark “completely incompetent,” said no one at that meeting backed Clark.
- The president asked “what do I have to lose?” Donoghue said “a lot, and I started explaining to him what he had to lose”…including “hundreds and hundreds of resignations from the leadership of your entire Department of Justice”.
Involvement of GOP Congressmen
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.) texted former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows asking him to elevate Clark within the DOJ and ask Clark to work with the FBI to pursue their fraud allegations, despite DOJ officials saying that they had no merit, as the messages obtained by the committee showed.
- White House visitor logs also showed Perry brought Clark to the White House on a December 2022 visit, which DOJ officials said was a violation of their policy given the department’s independence. of justice in relation to the executive power.
GOP members asked for forgiveness
Several members of Congress asked Trump for forgiveness, a series of Trump White House officials testified behind closed doors – including Meadows aide Cassidy Hutchinson and former White House presidential personnel office director John McEntee.
- They testified from Representatives Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Andy Biggs (R-Arizona), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Scott Perry (R-Penn.) have all asked for forgiveness at some point.
- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) discussed a pardon but never asked for one, Hutchinson said.
“Gateway to Italy”
Trump and his team believed in a conspiracy theory that Italian satellites corrupted voting machines and transferred votes from Trump to Biden, DOJ officials testified.
- The committee confirmed that a call had been made by Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller to an attaché in Italy to investigate the allegations.
- Donoghue called the theory “pure madness”.
- “This is one of the best examples of how far President Trump would go to stay in power,” said committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who led the panel’s questioning. .