The House committee investigating theThursday focused’s hearing on the efforts of then-President Donald Trump and former Justice Department official to pressure the department to help overturn the 2020 election results.
Trump wanted to fire acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen — who had just taken over in December 2020, after Attorney Generalbecame official — and to replace him with Clark, an environmental lawyer who had never prosecuted a criminal case. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, who led the questioning Thursday, said Clark’s only qualification was that “he would do whatever the president wanted him to do.”
Installing Clark and the pressure campaign on the Justice Department amounted to “essentially a political coup,” committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson said.
In video testimony, former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann, said of Clark that “best I can tell, the only thing you know about environmental and elections challenges is they both start with ‘E.'”
Three former Justice Department officials tested before the committee Thursday -– former acting deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel. Donoghue showed handwritten notes he had taken during a call with Trump, in which the former president said, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the [Republican] congressmen.”
Trump’s determination to install Clark as the nation’s top law enforcement official was apparent — Jan. 3, 2021 White House call logs shown by the committee were already referring to Clark as the acting attorney general. But all the deputy attorneys general threatened to quit if Clark was installed to helm the Justice Department, former assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, who headed the Office of Legal Counsel, testified Thursday, and this reality convinced Trump to reconsider.
Donoghue testified Thursday that Clark wanted to send a letter to the Georgia Legislature from the Justice Department questioning the integrity of the election, a move that “may very well have spiraled us into a constitutional crisis” if that plan had been allowed to go forward, Donoghue said.
After the 2020 election, Trump relentlessly pushed the Justice Department to investigate his claims of election fraud, even after they had been investigated and disproven. At one point, when the Justice Department declined to act on a conspiracy theory claiming Italian satellites were switching votes from Trump to Biden, the Defense Department made some inquiries. Donoghue dismissed the theory as “absurd.”
Kinzinger said the panel learned that former acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller ended up calling the attaché in Italy to investigate the Italian satellite claim.
Handwritten notes from Donoghue noted that Trump told top Justice Department officials, “You guys may not be following the internet the way I do.”
“This is one of the best examples of the lengths President Trump would go to stay in power,” Kinzinger said. “Scouring the internet to support his conspiracy theories.”
Meanwhile, CBS News has learned that there was a search of Clark’s home on Wednesday morning.
Also revealed on Thursday was that Republican Congressman Matt Gaetz and other GOP members of Congress asked for pardons from the White House, according to recorded communications and recorded testimony from former White House aides.
Five days after the attack on the Capitol, Rep. Mo Brooks emailed the White House a letter “pursuant to a request from Matt Gaetz,” recommending that the president give blanket “pardons to the following groups of people: Every Congressman and senator who voted to reject the Electoral College vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania .”
Brooks, meanwhile, responded to the revelation of his pardon request in a text message to CBS News: he said that “there was a concern Democrats would abuse the judicial system by prosecuting and jailing Republicans who acted pursuant to their Constitutional or statutory duties under 3 USC 15.”
The committee has not set the dates of the next hearings, which Thompson said earlier this week would likely be in July.
Ellis Kim contributed to this report.