Donald Trump’s bid to seize a second term that he didn’t win ran into an early obstacle: The Justice Department kept debunking his false claims of fraud. On Thursday, the Jan. 6 select committee hopes to reveal new information about that chapter of the 2020 election.
Rather than accepting his advisers’ evidence that no widespread fraud affected the outcome, Trump demanded that DOJ legitimize his subversion — and when it didn’t, he developed a plan to replace its leadership with more pliable officials. At its fifth public hearing, focused on Trump’s deployment of DOJ, the select panel also intends to show how some of his allies counted on his sweeping presidential pardon power to insulate them from potential criminal consequences.
Aiding the select committee will be the top three leaders at DOJ during Trump’s final chaotic weeks in office: former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue, and former Office of Legal Counsel Chief Steven Engel. All three helped thwart Trump’s designs for DOJ by threatening a mass resignation.
“[D]uring my tenure, we appointed no special prosecutors; sent no letters to States or State legislators disputing the election outcome; and made no public statements saying the election was corrupt and should be overturned,” Rosen says in his written statement to the select panel obtained by POLITICO. “We initiated no Supreme Court actions, nor filed or joined any other lawsuits, calling into question the legitimacy of our election and institutions.
All three are also expected to speak to Rep. Scott Perry’s (R-Pa.) work with Trump and chief of staff Mark Meadows to install DOJ official Jeffrey Clark atop the department. Clark was prepared to issue a letter under the auspices of DOJ to multiple states, urging them to convene their legislatures and consider whether to appoint new electors who would favor Trump.
Rosen and his allies feared that putting DOJ’s imprimatur on the effort would destabilize the country and intensify public distrust in the election results.
Trump’s designs for DOJ culminated in a fateful Jan. 3, 2021, Oval Office meeting with the three DOJ leaders issuing their resignation threat, causing Trump to back down from a plan to appoint Clark as acting attorney general.
The select committee is expected to use Thursday’s hearing to elaborate on evidence it teased at its first hearing on June 9: that multiple Trump allies, including Perry, requested pardons for their involvement in Trump’s effort to stay in power. Perry, who chairs the pro-Trump House Freedom Caucus, has denied making any such request.
The Jan. 6 panel has already shown an email from attorney John Eastman, one of the key architects of Trump’s bid to stay in power, asking to be placed on Trump’s “pardon list.” Committee members have further indicated that other congressional Republicans sought pardons, and chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters Wednesday there would be “conversations” about pardons for GOP lawmakers during Thursday’s hearing.
In court filings connected to its investigation, the committee revealed text messages between Perry and Meadows in which Perry urged Meadows to elevate Clark at DOJ as quickly as possible. The two also discussed a potential deputy for Clark. The select committee has also obtained testimony that Meadows burned some papers in his office after meeting with Perry during those crucial post-election weeks.
The select committee may also home in on DOJ’s post-election defense of then-Vice President Mike Pence against a lawsuit from Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and several false pro-Trump electors. That group sued Pence in federal court, seeking a ruling that would have ramped up pressure on Pence to assert authority to reject Joe Biden’s presidential electors.
DOJ’s defense of Pence was the department’s only election-related litigation during these tumultuous weeks. The litigation also forced Pence, for the first time, to publicly resist efforts by Trump to pressure him to single-handedly overturn the election.
Gohmert’s suit was dismissed in district and appeals courts, and the Supreme Court tossed it as moot after Jan. 6.
Betsy Woodruff Swan contributed to this report.