‘Say election was corrupt’: US officials detail Trump pressure

Former US Justice Department officials have testified before the panel investigating the Capitol riot that former President Donald Trump pressured them to declare the results of the 2020 US election “corrupt” and threatened those who refused to go along with his plan.

In the fifth public hearing this month on the January 6, 2021 attacks, officials said on Thursday that Trump considered replacing the acting attorney general with a more pliant candidate who would go along with his efforts to overturn the vote.

A former Department of Justice official testified that Trump said, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

The former president’s false voter fraud claims were often fuelled by conspiracy theories, the panel heard on Thursday, including one involving Italian satellites that allegedly altered US votes.

The committee also heard about how several Republican lawmakers, including Congressman Matt Gaetz, had asked for pardons in relation to January 6, according to former Trump White House officials.

Here are some of the hearing’s highlights:

  • Justice Department officials laid out campaign of pressure to legitimise false claims of fraud
  • Several GOP lawmakers, including Congressman Matt Gaetz, asked for pardons: Official
  • Ex-Justice Department official said Trump told him: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me”
  • Trump’s voter fraud allegations were “meritless”, Justice Department officials testified
  • A “key focus” of the hearing was a DoJ draft letter falsely alleging fraud that was never signed, panel co-chair Liz Cheney said

Below is a timeline of the hearing as it unfolded:


Several Republican lawmakers asked for pardons: Official

Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testified in a committee interview that Republican Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Mo Brooks “advocated for there to be a blanket pardon” for January 6.

“Mr Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon and he was doing so since early December. I’m not sure why,” Hutchinson told the panel. “Mr Gaetz had reached out to me to ask if he could have a meeting with Mr Meadows about receiving a presidential pardon.”

Asked if other lawmakers contacted her about pardons, Hutchinson said Congressmen Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert, and Scott Perry also did.

Congressman Jim Jordan “talked about congressional pardons, but he never asked me for one. It was more for an update on whether the White House was going to pardon members of Congress”, she added. Hutchinson also said Marjorie Taylor Greene, a key Trump ally, asked White House counsel for a pardon.


Rosen received calls from top US legislators on January 6

Rosen, the former acting attorney general, said he received calls from senior US lawmakers on January 6.

That included calls from Democratic Party leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, as well as senior Republican Congressman Kevin McCarthy.

“The basic thrust of the calls with the members of Congress was, ‘There’s a dire situation here and can you help,’” Rosen told the panel.

Rosen testified that Trump’s election fraud claims were baseless [Jim Bourg/Reuters]

Internet-fuelled conspiracy theory prompted Pentagon chief to call official in Italy

The persistence of White House officials prompted then-acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller to call a military attache in Italy to investigate an internet-fuelled conspiracy theory about Italian satellites switching votes in the US election.

“This is one of the best examples of the lengths to which President Trump would go to stay in power,” Kinzinger said.


Trump appeared to threaten to sack Justice Department leaders: Donoghue

Donoghue has said that Trump appeared to threaten to fire him along with acting Attorney General Rosen for refusing to back his baseless election fraud claims.

“He said, ‘People tell me I should just get rid of both of you. I should just remove you and make a change in the leadership, put Jeff Clark and maybe something will finally get done,” Donoghue said.

He recalled telling Trump in response: “Mr President, you should have the leadership that you want, but understand the United States Justice Department functions on facts, evidence and law. And those are not going to change, so you can have whatever leadership you want, but the department’s position is not going to change.”


Trump ‘asked me to be a special counsel’: Sidney Powell

As Justice Department officials told him there was no reason to appoint an independent special counsel to investigate his false claims of fraud, Trump offered the job to a member of his own legal team.

Sidney Powell told the panel in a taped deposition that the then-president asked her to be special counsel “to address the election issues and to collect evidence”.

Powell said Trump turned to her because of his frustration with the lack of action by other government agencies.


Trump sent ‘meritless’ draft lawsuit to Justice Department: Witness

Engel, the former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, has said that Trump sent a draft lawsuit to the Justice Department alleging voter fraud, asking for it to be filed to the Supreme Court.

“It was a meritless lawsuit that was not something that the department could or would bring,” Engel told the panel. “Somebody obviously prepared it and handed it to the president and he forwarded on for our review.”

AG
Steven Engel (left), Jeffrey Rosen (centre) and Richard Donoghue (right) are sworn in during Thursday’s hearing [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Clark refused to answer whether he discussed ‘fraud’ letter with Trump

Clark has declined to say whether he discussed his Justice Department draft letter falsely alleging election fraud in Georgia with Trump.

In a video from his testimony to the committee, Clark invokes the Fifth Amendment and “executive privilege” to avoid answering.

“Fifth and executive privilege again, just restated for the abundance of caution,” he told the committee.


Trump’s team floated Jeffrey Clark as attorney general to overturn vote

The panel has been examining efforts to install Clark as acting attorney general to help overturn the election.

Lawmakers and witnesses argued that Clark was not qualified for the position and was only suggested because he would have backed Trump’s false claims of fraud in the election.

In a video from his testimony to the committee, Giuliani says: “I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation.”


‘Just say the election was corrupt,’ Donoghue says Trump told him

The panel has featured a hand-written note by Donoghue, in which he quotes Trump as saying: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”

Donoghue confirmed to the panel that the statement was an exact quote from Trump.


All of Trump’s fraud allegations were not credible: Donoghue

Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general, answered with a simple “no” when asked whether any of Trump’s election fraud allegations were true.

Donoghue said the Justice Department looked into various claims but did not find any instances of fraud that would have come close to changing the election results.


Former attorney general says Trump wanted DoJ to back fraud claims

Rosen, who served as acting attorney general in the final days of the Trump administration, has told the committee that Trump suggested several ways for the Justice Department to back his fraud claims, including making a public statement questioning the validity of the vote.

Trump also raised the prospect of filing a lawsuit to challenge the election results and suggested that Rosen meet with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, the former acting attorney general said.

“I will say that the Justice Department declined all of those requests that I was just referencing because we did not think that they were appropriate based on facts and the law,” Rosen said.

Panel
Representative Adam Kinzinger (left) speaks during the fifth hearing on June 23, 2022 [Jonathan Ernst/Reuters]

Hearing will expose Trump’s ‘disregard’ for Constitution: Kinzinger

Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the committee who is set to play a leading role at the hearing, hit out at Trump’s efforts to politicise the Justice Department, stressing that the attorney general’s loyalty should be to the Constitution, not to the president.

“Today, President Trump’s total disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed,” Kinzinger said.


DoJ draft letter falsely alleging fraud a ‘key focus’

The hearing will highlight a draft letter by former Justice Department officials Jeffrey Clark and Ken Klukowski falsely alleging election fraud that was set to be sent to the Georgia State Legislature, Cheney said.

“Had this letter been released on official Department of Justice letterhead, it would have falsely informed all Americans, including those who might be inclined to come to Washington on January 6, that President Trump’s election fraud allegations were likely very real,” Cheney said.

The letter was drafted without the knowledge of the Justice Department’s top leaders, who refused to sign it.


Trump oversaw ‘planning and coordination’ that led to Capitol riot: Cheney

Liz Cheney, co-chair outlined what the panel has laid out so far in previous hearings: that Trump launched a fraudulent media campaign to convince Americans the election was fraudulent; that he tried to pressure Vice President Pence to refuse to count electoral votes, and how he provoked the mob on January 6.

“These efforts are not some minor or ad hoc enterprise concocted overnight, ” Cheney said. “Each required planning and coordination. Some required significant funding. All of them were overseen by President Trump.”


Trump wanted Justice Department to ‘legitimise his lies’: Thompson

Thompson has said that Trump wanted the Justice Department to “legitimise his lies” about election fraud.

“When these and other efforts failed, Donald Trump sought to replace Mr Rosen, the acting attorney general, with a lawyer who he believes would inappropriately put the full weight of the Justice Department behind the effort to overturn the election,” Thompson said.

Kinzinger
Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the committee, takes his seat as the fifth Jan 6 hearing kicks off on Thursday, June 23 [J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

Hearing starts

Chairman Thompson has gavelled in the fifth January 6 hearing of the month.

The session is underway.


US agents search home of Trump-era DoJ official: Reports
Federal agents have searched the home of a Trump-era Justice Department official who helped lead efforts to overturn the 2020 election, the Associated Press news agency and other US news outlets have reported, citing unidentified officials.

Jeffrey Clark’s role in the run-up to the Capitol riots is expected to feature prominently at Thursday’s hearing.


Top ex-Justice officials to testify

Former top officials from the Department of Justice will testify at Thursday’s hearing, the panel has announced.

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 are set to appear before the committee.


Committee to look at pressure on Department of Justice

Thursday’s hearing will focus on Trump’s efforts to “corrupt” the Department of Justice in his attempt “to cling to power”, panel chair Bennie Thompson said earlier this week.

He added that Trump was the “driving force” behind that campaign.

Previous hearings have looked at Trump’s efforts to pressure local and state officials to overturn the vote and the panel’s argument that the former president knew his voter fraud allegations were false.


Republican House leader defends pulling members from panel

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy has defended his decision to pull Republican picks from the January 6 panel last year after Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two of his nominees for the panel who are staunch Trump allies.

“I do not regret not appointing anybody at all. How can you have an honest investigation if the speaker can appoint and pick and choose who can be on?” McCarthy said, calling the committee “political”.

Two Republicans – Liz Cheney, who serves as vice chair of the panel, and Adam Kinzinger – remain on the committee, but they have been all but ostracised by their party.

Kevin McCarthy
US House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy says he does not regret refusing to appoint Republicans to the panel [File: Bloomberg]

Key takeaways from last hearing

In the last hearing, the congressional committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol featured emotional testimonies from witnesses who highlighted former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 elections.

Trump – once again – was the main focus of the session on Tuesday, which examined his push to pressure local and state officials to reject the election results.

Read the key takeaways from that hearing here.


Welcome to Al Jazeera’s live coverage of a United States congressional committee’s public hearing on its inquiry into the January 6, 2021 US Capitol riot.

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