The House select committee investigating the riot at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, held another hearing on Thursday (June 23) to provide more details of its year-long investigation. Thursday’s hearing focused on how former President Donald Trump tried to pressure officials within the Department of Justice to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
The committee called three witnesses to testify, Jeffrey Rosen, former acting attorney general; Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general; and Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel.
“We will show that Trump’s demands that the Department investigate baseless claims of election fraud continued into January 2021,” Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson said in his opening remarks.
“Trump didn’t just want the Justice Department to investigate. He wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies,” he added.
The early part of the hearing focused on Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who promoted legal theories that would allow the government to overturn the results of the election. The committee aired video testimony from Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann telling investigators that he told Clark his plan was illegal.
“When he finished discussing what he planned on doing, I said, good fucking— excuse me, sorry, effing a-hole, congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you would take as attorney general would be committing a felony and violating Rule 6(e). You’re clearly the right candidate for this job,” Herschmann said.
Despite knowing the plan was illegal, Clark and Trump continued to promote the scheme. When Trump was met with resistance from other officials in the Justice Department, including Rosen, he considered firing him and replacing him with Clark.
Trump ultimately decided against appointing Clark as the acting Attorney General after multiple officials threatened to quit.
“I made the point that Jeff Clark is not even competent to serve as the attorney general. He’s never been a criminal attorney. He’s never conducted a criminal investigation in his life,” Donoghue told the committee.
The committee then aired testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr, explaining why he quickly authorized the Justice Department to investigate claims of fraud related to the election.
“Frankly, I think the fact that I put myself in the position that I could say that we had looked at this and didn’t think there was fraud was really important to moving things forward,” Barr said.
“I sort of shudder to think what the situation would have been if the position of the department was ‘we’re not even looking at this until after Biden’s in office,'” he said. “I’m not sure we would have had a transition at all.”
The committee then pointed out how members of Congress continued to spread false claims of election fraud, despite the investigation by the Justice Department finding no evidence of widespread fraud.
After a brief recess, the committee continued to provide details about how Trump continued to try to use the Department of Justice and how Rosen, Donoghue, and Engel, pushed back against him and tried to reign him in.
In one instance, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows urged Donoghue to investigate baseless and debunked claims in a YouTube video that claimed the Italian government was part of a scheme to hack voting machines and change votes.
“The Select Committee investigation found that this wild, baseless conspiracy theory made it from the recesses of the internet to the highest echelons of our government,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger said.
The committee’s next hearing will be in July. Lawmakers said they decided to push the date back so they can have time to look into new evidence they have collected.