Listening to: Trump instructed Justice Dept. to name election ‘corrupt’

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Listening to: Trump instructed Justice Dept. to name election ‘corrupt’
Listening to: Trump instructed Justice Dept. to name election ‘corrupt’

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WASHINGTON — Donald Trump has chased the Department of Justice to pursue his false allegations of election fraud, and has unsuccessfully sought to recruit top law enforcement officials in his desperate bid to stay in power and only back off when the Oval Office warned of mass resignations, according to Thursday’s testimony to a House committee investigating the 6 January 2021, Capitol riots.

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Three Trump-era Justice Department officials recounted the president’s continued agitation, including day-to-day directives to pursue unsubstantiated allegations that the election won by Democrat Joe Biden had been stolen. They said they ignored every request from Trump because there was no evidence of widespread fraud, and then got together as the president weighed whether to replace the department’s chief counsel with a lower-level official eager to back out the findings.

On Thursday, the panel revealed that Republican loyalists in Congress had all along threatened the president’s allegations — and many later sought pardons from the White House after efforts failed and the Capitol abused in a day of violence.

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The hearing, the fifth of the commission investigating the attack on the Capitol, made clear that Trump’s sweeping lobbying campaign targeted not only statewide election officials, but also his executive agencies. Witnesses formally described the president’s continued communication as an unusual violation of protocol, especially since the Department of Justice has long cherished its independence from the White House and looked to move away from partisan considerations in investigative decisions.

“When you destroy our core institutions, it is not easy to repair them,” said Jeffrey Rosen, acting attorney general in the final days of the Trump administration. “So I assumed this was a very necessary subject, to attempt to be sure that the Division of Justice may keep heading in the right direction.”

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The hearing focused on a turbulent and memorable time in the department after the December 2020 departure of Attorney General William Barr, who infuriated Trump by publicly declaring that there was no evidence of fraud that could have altered the election results.

He was replaced by his oldest deputy, Rosen, who said that for about two weeks after taking office, he either met or called Trump almost daily. The common theme, he said, was “dissatisfaction that the Division of Justice, in his view, had not carried out sufficient to analyze election fraud.”

Richard Donoghue, another senior official who testified on Thursday, said Trump made the department “an arsenal of allegations,” none of which were true. However, Trump has urged the department at various points to seize voting machines, appoint a special counsel to investigate allegations of fraud and declare election corruption.

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The department does none of these things.

“For the ministry itself to enter the political process in this way, I think it would have had serious consequences for the country. It may have led us into a constitutional crisis,” Donoghue said.

The testimony showed that Trump did find, however, a willing ally within the department in the form of an environmental enforcement attorney who became the acting civilian division leader.

Attorney Jeffrey Clark was introduced to Trump by a Republican congressman and portrayed himself as an ardent defender of allegations of electoral fraud. In a controversial meeting in the Oval Office on the night of January 3, 2021, just three days before the rebellion, Trump manipulated to replace Rosen with Clark but backed out amid warnings of mass resignations.

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Clarke’s name was mentioned frequently on Thursday, with Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican senator from Illinois, derided as an attorney whose only qualifications were his loyalty to Trump and his willingness to do what the president wants, “together with toppling a free and truthful Democratic election.”

Clark’s attorney did not respond to messages seeking comment.

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Barely an hour before the hearing began, it was revealed Wednesday that federal agents searched Clark’s Virginia home, according to a person familiar with the matter. It was not clear what the customers were looking for.

The recent hearing focused less on the violence in the Capitol than on the legal push by Trump to retract the election results, as the committee established that the defeated president’s “massive lie” about the election led to the rebellion. This included specific questions from Trump but also more general questions.

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In one phone conversation, according to Donoghue’s handwritten notes highlighted at Thursday’s hearing, Trump directed Rosen to “simply say the election was corrupt and go away the remaining to me and members of Congress.”

At about that time, Republican Congressman Scott Perry of Pennsylvania called Clark, who joined the department in 2018 as the chief environmental attorney and later proceeded to aid efforts to challenge the election results.

At one point, Clark presented his colleagues with a draft letter urging officials in Georgia to convene a special legislative session on the election results. Clark wanted the letter sent, but the heads of the Department of Justice refused.

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Clark was not among the witnesses to the hearing. He earlier appeared in private before the committee, although on Thursday lawmakers played videotaped testimony showing him repeatedly invoking his constitutional right not to incriminate himself in response to questions.

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Perry’s name later surfaced at the hearing, when the committee showed videotaped statements from Trump aides saying that he and several other Republican members of Congress had sought a pardon from the president that would protect them from criminal prosecution.

Perry and his fellow Republicans, Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Matt Gates of Florida and Louie Gommert of Texas, all joined in efforts to reject the electoral roll or send out “pretend voters.” Gates tweeted Thursday that the hearing was a “political sideshow,” and Berry denied in a statement Thursday that he had asked for a pardon.

The situation came to a head on January 3, 2021, that is, on Sunday, when Clark reported Rosen that Trump wanted to replace Clark as acting attorney general. Rosen, resisting the idea of ​​being fired by a subordinate, testified that he quickly called senior officials of the Department of Justice to rally them together. He also requested a meeting at the White House, where he and his allies could make their case.

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That night, he appeared at the White House for what would be a dramatic meeting that lasted for hours focused on whether Trump should move forward with his plans to radically change leadership. Clark was present, as were Donoghue and Stephen Engel, Rosen’s ally and a senior Justice Department official, who testified on Thursday.

At the beginning of the meeting, Rosen said, “The President turned to me and said, ‘The only thing we know is that you, Rosen, are not going to do anything. You don’t even agree with the allegations of election fraud, and this other guy at least might be doing something.”

Rosen instructed Trump he was proper, and mentioned he would not let the Justice Division do something to nullify the election.

Donoghue made it clear that he would resign if Trump fired Rosen. Trump requested Engel if he would do the identical. Engel replied that he definitely would. Trump was instructed that the complete management crew would resign. A whole lot of staff are additionally going out.

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Donoghue additionally sought to influence Trump to not consider Clarke had the authorized background to do what the president wished, saying Clark had “never been tried in a criminal case” or performed a prison investigation.

“He’s telling you he’s going to take charge of the department, 115,000 employees, including the entire FBI, turn the place into a dime and conduct nationwide criminal investigations that will produce results within days,” Donoghue mentioned.

“It’s impossible, it’s ridiculous, it won’t happen, and it will fail,” he added.

The president retreated. The evening, and his Republican administration, ended with Rosen on the head of the Justice Division.

Related Press authors Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro, and Marie Claire Galonick in Washington contributed to this report.

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