Top DOJ officials detail Trump's efforts to overturn election results
A series of former Trump Justice Department officials revealed on Thursday the extent of the former president's campaign to pressure them to find evidence of election fraud and overturn the 2020 election results, and later, to reorganize the department when they refused.
The big picture: The officials recounted a series of instances in which they repeatedly told former President Trump he was spewing conspiracy theories and that his claims of election fraud were not true. But Trump found new ways — and brought in new people such as former assistant attorney general Jeffrey Clark — to help push his false narrative.
Why it matters: The DOJ is a nonpartisan entity. The testimony from Trump's top DOJ officials reveals the extent of his efforts to politicize and force the department to help him overturn the election results.
The officials explained how they meticulously analyzed Trump and his team's allegations of election fraud, and repeatedly shut them down. Trump refused to believe them, they said.
Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testified that “virtually every day” Trump told him the DOJ "had not done enough to investigate election fraud."
- Rosen said Trump questioned bringing on a special counsel for election fraud, urged him to meet with his campaign lawyer Rudy Giuliani, asked if the DOJ would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court, wanted the department hold a press conference, and — later — discussed having the DOJ send a letter to state legislatures in Georgia and other states stating they had significant concerns that may have impacted the election results.
- Rosen said Trump also suggested the DOJ seize voting machines from state governments, something he refused. "There was nothing wrong with the voting machines, so that was not something that was appropriate to do," he testified. Trump grew increasingly frustrated with his response, he said.
Former acting deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified Trump told the DOJ: "Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and [a] Republican congressman?'"
- Donoghue made clear, however: "There were isolated instances of fraud, none of them came close to calling into question the outcome of the election in any individual state." They told Trump as much, he said.
- Donoghue also detailed how he went through each of Trump’s election fraud allegations, including “a driver who claimed to move a trailer of ballots from New York to Pennsylvania": “We knew it wasn’t true,” he said.
Former Assistant Attorney General Steve Engel explained how Trump wanted the DOJ to send a lawsuit, drafted by Trump's outside attorneys, to the Supreme Court regarding election fraud.
- Engel said he and other DOJ officials opposed it. Engel said at the time: "There is no legal basis to bring this lawsuit. Anyone who thinks otherwise simply doesn't know the law, much less the Supreme Court."
- Engel also testified the White House asked whether the Attorney General Bill Barr could appoint a state attorney general as special counsel to investigate election fraud.
The former DOJ officials testified Clark wanted to investigate election fraud and have Trump install him as attorney general, his plans to help push theories about election fraud were "nuts" and a "murder-suicide pact."
- Trump considered installing Clark, an environmental attorney, as attorney general after acting Rosen refuted his fraud claims.
- Clark wrote a draft letter stating the DOJ had evidence of fraud, something former White House counsel Pat Cipollone called a "murder-suicide pact" should he send it to state officials, Donoghue recounted.
- Former White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said in a pre-taped deposition he told Clark: "F—ing A-hole, congratulations, you just admitted your first step you would take as AG would be committing a felony... You're clearly the right candidate for this job."
Ousting Trump's acting AG
- On January 3, Trump told Clark he'd appoint him as acting attorney general and began referring to him as attorney general.
- Trump then hosted an Oval Office meeting and made his reasoning clear: his then-acting Attorney General Rosen wouldn't investigate false claims of fraud, but Clark would.
- Donoghue, who declared Clark as "completely incompetent," said no one in that meeting supported Clark.
- The president asked “what do I have to lose?” Donoghue said “a great deal, and I began to explain to him what he had to lose" ... including "hundreds and hundreds of resignations of the leadership of your entire Justice Department."
Involvement of GOP congressmen
Rep. Scott Perry (R-Penn.) texted former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows asking him to elevate Clark within DOJ, and have clark to work with the FBI to pursue their fraud claims, despite DOJ officials stating they had no merit, messages obtained by the committee showed.
- White House visitor logs also showed that Perry brought Clark to the White House on a Dec. 2022 visit, something the DOJ officials said was a violation of their policy given the Justice Department's indepence from the executive branch.
GOP members sought pardons
Several members of Congress sought pardons from Trump, a series of Trump White House officials testified behind closed doors — including an aide to Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson, and former Director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office, John McEntee.
- They testified Reps. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.), Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.), Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) and Scott Perry (R-Penn.) all sought pardons at one point.
- Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) discussed a pardon but never asked one for one, Hutchinson testified.
Trump and his team believed a conspiracy theory that Italian satellites were corrupting voting machines and switching votes from Trump to Biden, the DOJ officials testified.
- The committee confirmed a call was placed by then-acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller to an attache in Italy to investigate the claims.
- Donoghue called the theory "pure insanity."
- "This is one of the best examples of the lengths to which President Trump would go to stay in power," said committee member Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.), who led the panel's questioning.