The House January 6 committee’s fifth public hearing will examine former president Donald Trump’s attempt to install loyalists in leadership positions at the Department of Justice so they could use the full weight of the federal law enforcement apparatus to pressure state legislatures into overturning the 2020 election.
The panel’s Thursday session will feature a trio of top Trump-era Justice Department officials, including Jeffrey Rosen, who served as the acting attorney general after William Barr’s resignation, former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, and Steven Engel, the ex-assistant attorney general who headed the DOJ’s Office of Legal Counsel during the waning days of the Trump administration.
All three have already spoken extensively about Mr Trump’s actions in the days leading up to the worst attack on the Capitol since 1814, with each previously giving evidence in depositions taken as part of a Senate Judiciary Committee probe into Mr Trump’s attempts to hang on to the presidency against the wishes of American voters.
The Senate investigation found Mr Trump “repeatedly asked DOJ leadership to endorse his false claims that the election was stolen and to assist his efforts to overturn the election results” starting as soon as Mr Rosen assumed leadership of the department, including seven separate phone calls and meetings between the two men in December 2020.
Mr Trump also tried to induce Mr Rosen to resign during another Oval Office meeting on 3 January 2021 — just three days before the Capitol attack — in order to replace him with Jeffrey Clark, then the acting head of the DOJ’s civil division.
Mr Clark had ingratiated himself to the then-president by promising to use the authority of the acting attorney general’s position to send a letter to swing state officials purporting to inform them that the department had “taken notice” of what amounted to a litany of false claims which were then being circulated by Mr Trump’s allies in congress and conservative media.
In testimony to the judiciary committee, Mr Rosen told senators that Mr Clark had approached him and revealed that Mr Trump planned to elevate him to Mr Rosen’s position. But the plan never came into force because Mr Rosen, Mr Donoghue, and other top DOJ officials — as well as then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone — threatened to quit en masse.
A select committee aide who briefed reporters on plans for Thursday’s hearing said the panel will use the 3.00 pm session to “really … look into how in the waning weeks of administration, President Trump tried to pressure the Department of Justice into helping overturn the 2020 election”.
”We’ll look specifically at how the President was trying to misuse the department to advance his own agenda to stay in power at the end of his term. And we’ll look at how that really is different from historical precedent and how the President was using the DOJ for his own personal means”.
Specifically, the aide said the hearing would examine Mr Trump’s attempts to pressure the department into filing baseless lawsuits on behalf of or in conjunction with his failed re-election campaign, how he tried to appoint a “special counsel” — attorney Sidney Powell — to pursue his baseless claims, and how the department resisted his efforts.
While the prior senate investigation revealed some details about Mr Clark’s attempt to take over the Justice Department, the aide said the select committee will shine a renewed spotlight on his machinations.
“There are parts of the story that haven’t been told yet. So we will be providing greater context with … greater detail, and we’ll be showing how this hearing follows from the one before and fits into the overall story that select committee is laying out,” they said.