Thursday’s hearing before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection turns the panel’s focus toward how former President Donald Trump tried to use the Justice Department to bolster his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
Three top officials who led the Justice Department in the final days of the Trump administration will testify about how the then-President and his allies sought to enlist the department to give their baseless fraud allegations credibility and how Trump considered replacing the acting attorney general with an official who bought into his claims of fraud, according to committee aides.
Some background: After Jeffrey Rosen was named acting attorney general in December 2020 following the resignation of William Barr — who had publicly said the Justice Department did not uncover substantial evidence of voter fraud — Trump and his allies began pressuring Rosen over the fraud claims.
Trump’s push began what was a tumultuous period at the Justice Department in the lead-up to Jan. 6, 2021, when the then-President considered replacing Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, then the department’s top energy lawyer who had pushed Trump’s fraud claims inside the Justice Department.
The DOJ officials, along with lawyers in the White House counsel’s office, took part in a dramatic Jan. 3, 2021, meeting in the Oval Office with Clark and Rosen present, where Trump ultimately backed away from his plan to install Clark as the head of the Justice Department — after Rosen, Donoghue and Engel had threatened to resign in protest.
What else to watch for:
Jeffery Clark will be a major focus: On Thursday, Clark’s behind-the-scenes efforts to help Trump’s campaign subvert the election are likely to be the main focus.
Committee aides said the hearing would focus on the role that Clark played inside the Justice Department in pushing Trump’s false claims of fraud. Clark planned to “reverse the department’s investigative conclusions regarding election fraud,” according to committee aides, and wanted to send out letters to states suggesting there had been fraud.
His push was swiftly rejected by Rosen and Donoghue, which led to the Oval Office showdown where Trump considered putting Clark in charge of the department.
While serving as the acting head of civil cases at the Justice Department at the end of the Trump presidency, Clark floated plans to give Georgia’s legislature and other states backing to undermine the popular vote results. He gave credence to unfounded conspiracy theories of voter fraud, according to documents from the Justice Department, and communicated with Trump about becoming the attorney general, a Senate investigation found this month.
The extent of Clark’s talks with Trump in the days before Jan. 6 aren’t yet publicly known. Clark appeared before the committee for a deposition in February and pleaded the Fifth, according to the aides.
The Justice Department has been scrutinized in the past: Last year, the Senate Judiciary Committee released a lengthy report detailing how Trump had tried to use the Justice Department to advance his efforts to overturn the 2020 election. The Senate investigation included interviews with the DOJ witnesses who will be testifying publicly on Thursday.
Jan. 6 committee aides said that the panel’s investigation is answering a different set of questions than the Senate probe, noting that in each of the committee’s previous hearings, there have been some parts of the story that have been known and some unknown.
The committee, for instance, was provided text messages showing how former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows was connected to Clark through Pennsylvania GOP Rep. Scott Perry, CNN previously reported.
Perry was one of three people singled out in the Senate Judiciary report for further scrutiny, along with Pennsylvania state GOP Rep. Doug Mastriano — now the Republican nominee for governor — and Trump legal adviser Cleta Mitchell.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger will be leading the hearing: Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, will be the committee member doing the bulk of the questioning during Thursday’s hearing focused on the Justice Department.
That could mean that the committee will provide more information about what it says is evidence of Republican lawmakers seeking pardons from the Justice Department, including Perry.
The committee raised the pardons in its opening hearing. Afterward, Perry denied that he had sought a pardon, calling it an “absolute shameless and soulless lie.”
On CBS’s “Face the Nation” earlier this month, Kinzinger said that more information about the pardons would be coming out in the hearing that he would lead.
Read more about what to expect from Thursday’s hearing here.