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Trump Told DOJ to Say Election Corrupt 06/24 06:03

   Donald Trump hounded the Justice Department to pursue his false election 
fraud claims, striving in vain to enlist top law enforcement officials in his 
desperate bid to stay in power and relenting only when warned in the Oval 
Office of mass resignations, according to testimony Thursday to the House panel 
investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- Donald Trump hounded the Justice Department to pursue his 
false election fraud claims, striving in vain to enlist top law enforcement 
officials in his desperate bid to stay in power and relenting only when warned 
in the Oval Office of mass resignations, according to testimony Thursday to the 
House panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

   Three Trump-era Justice Department officials recounted persistent badgering 
from the president, including day after day of directives to chase baseless 
allegations that the election won by Democrat Joe Biden had been stolen. They 
said they swept aside each demand from Trump because there was no evidence of 
widespread fraud, then banded together when the president weighed whether to 
replace the department's top lawyer with a lower-level official eager to help 
undo the results.

   All the while, Republican loyalists in Congress trumpeted the president's 
claims -- and several later sought pardons from the White House after the 
effort failed and the Capitol was breached in a day of violence, the committee 
revealed Thursday.

   The hearing, the fifth by the panel probing the assault on the Capitol, made 
clear that Trump's sweeping pressure campaign targeted not only statewide 
election officials but also his own executive branch agencies. The witnesses 
solemnly described the constant contact from the president as an extraordinary 
breach of protocol, especially since the Justice Department has long cherished 
its independence from the White House and looked to steer clear of partisan 
considerations in investigative decisions.

   "When you damage our fundamental institutions, it's not easy to repair 
them," said Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general in the final days of the 
Trump administration. "So I thought this was a really important issue, to try 
to make sure that the Justice Department was able to stay on the right course."

   The hearing focused on a memorably tumultuous time at the department after 
the December 2020 departure of Attorney General William Barr, who drew Trump's 
ire with his public proclamation that there was no evidence of fraud that could 
have changed the election results.

   He was replaced by his top deputy, Rosen, who said that for a roughly 
two-week period after taking the job, he either met with or was called by Trump 
virtually every day. The common theme, he said, was "dissatisfaction that the 
Justice Department, in his view, had not done enough to investigate election 
fraud."

   Trump presented the department with an "arsenal of allegations," none of 
them true, said Richard Donoghue, another top official who testified Thursday. 
Even so, Trump prodded the department at various points to seize voting 
machines, to appoint a special counsel to probe fraud claims and to simply 
declare the election corrupt.

   The department did none of those things.

   "For the department to insert itself into the political process this way, I 
think would have had grave consequences for the country. It may very well have 
spiraled us into a constitutional crisis," Donoghue said.

   The testimony showed that Trump did, however, find a willing ally inside the 
department in the form of an environmental enforcement lawyer who'd become the 
leader of the agency's civil division.

   The attorney, Jeffrey Clark, had been introduced to Trump by a Republican 
congressman and postured himself as an eager advocate for election fraud 
claims. In a contentious Oval Office meeting on the night of Jan. 3, 2021, just 
three days before the insurrection, Trump even toyed with replacing Rosen with 
Clark but backed down amid warnings of mass resignations.

   Clark's name was referenced often Thursday, with Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an 
Illinois Republican and committee member, deriding him as a lawyer whose sole 
qualification was his fealty to Trump and his willingness to do whatever the 
president wanted, "including overthrowing a free and fair democratic election."

   A lawyer for Clark did not return messages seeking comment.

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

   The latest hearing centered less on the violence at the Capitol than on the 
legal push by Trump to undo the election results, as the panel makes the case 
that the defeated president's "big lie" over the election led to the 
insurrection. That included specific asks by Trump but also more general ones.

   In one phone conversation, according to handwritten notes taken by Donoghue 
and highlighted at Thursday's hearing, Trump directed Rosen to "Just say the 
election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen."

   Around that time, Trump was connected by a Republican congressman, Rep. 
Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, to Clark, who'd joined the department in 2018 as 
its chief environmental lawyer and later set about aiding efforts to challenge 
the election results.

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

   Clark was not among the hearing witnesses. He earlier appeared in private 
before the committee, though lawmakers Thursday played a videotaped deposition 
showing him repeatedly invoking his constitutional right against 
self-incrimination in response to questions.

   Perry's name surfaced later in the hearing, when the committee played 
videotaped statements from Trump aides saying he and several other Republican 
members of Congress sought pardons from the president that would shield them 
from criminal prosecution.

   Perry and fellow GOP Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Matt 
Gaetz of Florida and Louie Gohmert of Texas were all involved in efforts to 
reject the electoral tally or submit "fake electors." Gaetz tweeted Thursday 
that the hearing was a "political sideshow," and Perry denied in a statement 
Thursday having ever sought a pardon.

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

   That night, he showed up at the White House for what would be a dramatic, 
hours-long meeting centered on whether Trump should proceed with plans for a 
radical leadership change. Clark was present, as were Donoghue and Steven 
Engel, a Rosen ally and senior Justice Department official who also testified 
Thursday.

   At the start of the meeting, Rosen said, "The president turned to me and he 
said: 'The one thing we know is you, Rosen, you aren't going to do anything. 
You don't even agree with the claims of election fraud, and this other guy at 
least might do something.'"

   Rosen told Trump he was correct, and said he wouldn't let the Justice 
Department do anything to overturn the election.

   Donoghue made clear he'd resign if Trump fired Rosen. Trump asked Engel 
whether he would do the same. Engel responded that, absolutely, he would. The 
entire leadership team would resign, Trump was told. Hundreds of staffers would 
walk out too.

   Donoghue also sought to dissuade Trump from believing Clark had the legal 
background to do what the president wanted, saying Clark had "never tried a 
criminal case" or conducted a criminal investigation.

   "He's telling you that he's going to take charge of the department, 115,000 
employees, including the entire FBI, and turn the place on a dime and conduct 
nationwide criminal investigations that will produce results in a matter of 
days,'" Donoghue said.

   "It's impossible," he added, "it's absurd, it's not going to happen, and 
it's going to fail."

   The president backed down. The night, and his Republican administration, 
ended with Rosen atop the Justice Department.

 
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