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Jan. 6 hearing: Trump sought to install unqualified lawyer as AG to help overturn election

Former acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen (R) testifies before the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 2022. Photo by Jemal Countess/UPI | License Photo

June 23 (UPI) -- The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol heard testimony Thursday that former President Donald Trump sought to install a Justice Department environmental lawyer as acting attorney general in an attempt to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.

Testimony from Justice Department and White House officials showed that Trump was considering replacing then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark. Clark, unlike Rosen, supported Trump's false claims that he won the 2020 presidential election.

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Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, said Trump wanted to put Clark in charge of the department because "he would do whatever the president wanted him to do."

"So who is Jeff Clark?" Kinzinger asked during the fifth public hearing of the committee. "An environmental lawyer with no experience relevant to leading the entire Department of Justice. What was his only qualification? That he would do whatever the president wanted him to do, including overthrowing a free and a fair democratic election."

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Former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said they were involved with meetings with Trump and Clark about their desire to have the Justice Department work to overturn the results of the election.

"I made the point that Jeff Clark is not even competent to serve as the attorney general," Donoghue said. "He's never conducted a criminal investigation in his life."

"You're an environmental lawyer," Donoghue said he told Clark during an Oval Office meeting. "How about you go back to your office, and we'll call you when there's an oil spill."

Donoghue's video testimony was aired Thursday during the hearing, though he was also present on Capitol Hill to answer questions by committee members.

Also in video testimony, Herschmann told investigators that Clark detailed a plan to overturn the election during a Jan. 3, 2021, meeting at the White House.

"When he finished discussing what he planned on doing, I said ... 'Congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you would take as attorney general would be committing a felony and violating Rule 6(e). You're clearly the right candidate for this job.'"

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Donoghue said that during the meeting, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone said Clark's plan was to send letters to elections officials in battleground states encouraging them to overturn the election. He described it as a "murder-suicide pact."

Donoghue added that he met with other assistant attorneys general, who agreed "they would resign en masse if the president made that change to department leadership."

"All, without hesitation, said they would resign."

Clark allegedly told Trump he would find evidence of widespread fraud if he was made attorney general.

Donoghue said he had multiple confrontations with Clark ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, certification of the Electoral College votes and resisted his efforts to overturn the election. He said he told Clark his plans were "nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election."

Donoghue said in a phone conversation with Trump, the president repeatedly pressed him on false election fraud claims. Donoghue said he told Trump, "the DOJ can't and won't snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election."

"'Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,'" Donoghue said Trump told him, sharing handwritten notes of the conversation.

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One of those congressmen, Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., worked to help install Clark as head of the Justice Department, testified Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. White House call logs displayed during Thursday's hearing showed that the White House was referring to Clark as the acting attorney general on Jan. 3, 2021.

The committee also showed recorded testimony from William Barr, who served as Trump's attorney general from 2019 until he resigned in late 2020. He told the committee he authorized the Justice Department's investigation into allegations of election fraud so there would be no question of integrity of the results.

"I just felt the responsible thing to do was to be put in a position to have a view as to whether or not there was fraud," he said. "And, frankly, I think the fact that I put myself in the position that I could say that we had looked at this and didn't think there was fraud was really important to move things forward.

"I sort of shudder to think what the situation would have been if the position of the department was 'we're not even looking at this until after [Joe] Biden's in office.' I'm not sure we would have had a transition at all."

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The committee also shared email evidence and testimony that multiple members of Congress, including Republican Reps. Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert and Perry sought pardons from Trump in the wake of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack.

Hutchinson said there was a Dec. 21 meeting in which congressional Republicans pushed for pardons.

"I guess Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Brooks I know had both advocated there be a blanket pardon for members involved in that meeting and a handful of other members that weren't at the Dec. 21 meeting as the preemptive pardons," she said. "Mr. Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon."

Kinzinger, who largely led questioning during Thursday's hearing, concluded his remarks, saying, "The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you've committed a crime."

Thursday was the select committee's final public hearing this month.

At previous hearings, the committee also shared testimony from Barr that he had three discussions with Trump in the months following the election and leading up to the Capitol attack. He said he repeatedly told the president he didn't find any evidence of voter fraud that would have affected the outcome of the election.

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Still, committee investigators say Trump attempted to use the department to overturn Biden's victory.

No investigation or federal court has found evidence of significant voter fraud in the election or supported Trump's claims that Biden won by illegitimate means.

The committee's previous hearing, on Tuesday, featured testimony from elections officials and workers in Georgia and Arizona about Trump's efforts to pressure them to overturn results in those key battleground states.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican, testified that his office investigated "every single allegation" made by Trump -- but could find no signs of voter fraud in his state. Biden won Georgia by about 12,000 votes and Trump infamously asked officials there during a phone call to "find" him enough votes to win the state.

On Wednesday, committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters the next hearings, after Thursday, would be held in July -- noting the panel has obtained new evidence that needs to be presented.

"We have looked at the body of work that we need to get done and we've taken in some additional information that's going to require additional work," Thompson said.

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He specified that the committee has received hours of additional video footage of Trump and his family members from documentary filmmaker Alex Holder.

Thompson also said the committee is in talks to hear testimony from Ginni Thomas, a conservative activist and the wife of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who contacted top White House officials after the election and urged them to find a way to keep Trump in power.

Thompson said at a hearing last week that the committee was seeking to call Ginni Thomas to testify. To date, there are no indications that Clarence Thomas was involved in any efforts related to the election.

"She's answered our letter, and we look forward to continued engagement with her," Thompson said Wednesday.

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