Win McNamee/Getty From left: Steven Engel, Jeffrey Rosen, Richard Donoghue
During the fifth public hearing held by the U.S. House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riots, Justice Department officials took the witness stand to detail former President Donald Trump's unrelenting pressure to find evidence of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
Testifying Thursday afternoon were Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general brought in after Bill Barr resigned; Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general at the time of the insurrection; and Steven Engel, the assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel at the time.
At the time that Rosen was brought in as attorney general, in December 2020, he said he faced pressure almost daily to uncover evidence that Joe Biden and Democrats had stolen the 2020 presidential election. Barr, after all, had just fallen from grace in Trump's eyes after publicly stating that the DOJ could not corroborate the president's election fraud claims.
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"Between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, the president either called me or met with me virtually every day, with one or two exceptions," Rosen testified. "The common element of all of [these meetings] was the president expressing his dissatisfaction that the Justice Department had not done enough to investigate election fraud."
Rosen said that the Justice Department declined all of Trump's requests of them to declare fraud, "because we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them."
Donoghue echoed Rosen's testimony, telling the House committee that Trump was fixated on verifying a few rumored instances of fraud in swing states.
Asked by Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee, if any of those rumors were found to be credible, Donoghue simply responded, "No."
Handwritten notes taken by Donoghue during the contentious period of time preceding the Jan. 6 riots were also analyzed during the hearing. In them, Donoghue wrote down a quote he attributes to Trump: "Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen."
Frustrated with the perceived lack of cooperation by Rosen, Donoghue and other DOJ officials, Trump reportedly began making plans to name Jeff Clark, an environmental lawyer, the new acting attorney general — a man whom Trump felt confident would cross a line that his other attorney generals had been unwilling to.
Others in DOJ leadership, though, believed Clark's lack of relevant experience and alleged willingness to "commit a felony" made him "completely incompetent" for the role, and that if he were to be named acting attorney general it would be a "murder-suicide pact" for the president and his team.
"When each of the president's efforts failed he resorted to installing a new attorney general to say that the election was illegal and corrupt, simply so he could stay in power," Kinzinger alleged on the panel.
Trump's behind-the-scenes plan to swap Rosen with Clark came to a head on the evening of Jan. 3, 2021, when a heated Oval Office meeting nearly cost the "integrity of the Department of Justice," Kinzinger said.
Donoghue recalled telling Trump: "You're going to lose your entire department leadership [if you appoint Clark]. Every [assistant attorney general] will walk out of here."
Ultimately, Trump decided not to replace Rosen — but his mission to stay in the White House wasn't over. Three days after that Jan. 3 meeting, the House committee asserts, his mounting frustration had boiled over onto his supporters on the steps of the U.S. Capitol.