WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump nearly replaced the head of the Department of Justice with a supporter of his fraud theories when the acting attorney general refused to comply with his demands to falsely claim there was evidence of fraud in the 2020 election, the House panel investigating the Capitol insurrection detailed in its hearing Thursday.
The committee also revealed that multiple Republican members of Congress asked for presidential pardons from Trump in the days after Jan. 6, 2021, including Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida and Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia.
The committee argued that a declaration from Justice Department officials that fraud had taken place in the election would have cast doubt on the results and given GOP-controlled state legislatures a pretense for appointing alternate presidential electors to reverse President Joe Biden’s victory.
“Donald Trump didn’t just want the Justice Department to investigate. He wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies, to baselessly call the election corrupt, to appoint a special counsel to investigate alleged election fraud,” said Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.
Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel Steven Engel testified before the committee that Trump asked the Justice Department in December to file legal briefs supporting election lawsuits brought by his campaign and allies. Testimony also detailed Trump’s request that Rosen appoint a special counsel to investigate election fraud, though Justice Department investigations had concluded there was no evidence of fraud on a scale that would change the election’s outcome.
“Between Dec. 23 (2020) and Jan. 3 (2021), the president either called me or met with me virtually every day,” Rosen said. “The Justice Department declined all of those requests because we did not think they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them.”
The panel also discussed a push by the former president to have the Justice Department challenge election results in Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin in the Supreme Court. Engel and the Office of Legal Counsel ruled there was no legal basis to bring such a lawsuit.
The committee focused on a handful of meetings in late December 2020 and early January 2021 in which Trump considered replacing Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, the head of the Justice Department’s civil division, at the prompting of Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., including a Dec. 27 phone call in which Trump told Rosen and Donoghue to “just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” according to notes Donoghue took from the conversation.
Donoghue said that the Dec. 27 conversation was “an escalation” of the pressure Trump had been putting on the department to intervene. Donoghue said he tried to be extremely blunt with Trump and tell him the department had investigated and there was nothing to any of the claims he was repeating because he saw there were many voices whispering in Trump’s ear.
“As we got later in the month of December, the president’s entreaties became more urgent. He became more adamant that we weren’t doing our job,” Donoghue said.