Jan. 6 Hearings Day 5: Committee Drills Into Trump’s Attempt to Exploit Attorney General’s Office to Overturn Election

Three former ranking members of the Justice Department testified

Jeffrey Rosen
Getty Images

Former President Donald Trump’s pressure on his own attorney general’s office to overturn the 2020 election was the focus of Thursday’s hearing of the House Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol – an attempt one dissenting Justice Department official called a “murder-suicide pact.”

Three former ranking members of Trump’s Justice Department testified: Jeffrey Rosen, former acting attorney general; Richard Donoghue, former deputy attorney general; and Steven Engel, former assistant AG.

Chairman Benny Thompson opened Thursday’s hearing by reiterating how the panel had already demonstrated that Trump pressured everyone from local election officials “to his own vice president … hoping public servants would give in to that pressure and help him steal the election he lost.”

The rest of the day was dedicated to how that pressure built within the DOJ, where an increasingly desperate Trump tried to install a patsy attorney general who would do his bidding.

Jeffrey Clark and the ‘Murder-Suicide Pact’

Testimony kicked off with a dramatic recounting of how Trump tried to elevate Jeffrey Clark, former acting head of the DOJ Civil Division, to acting attorney general – because Clark was willing to send letters to states stating that the election was fraudulent.

Donoghue, the former acting deputy attorney general, was at that meeting, and clashed with Clark and Trump.

“I remember saying, ‘That letter this guy wants to send, that letter is a murder-suicide pact. It’s gonna damage everyone who touches it. And we should have nothing to do with that letter. I don’t want anything to do with that letter,” Donoghue said.

Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks at a news conference in October 2020. (Getty Images)

In 2017, Trump nominated Clark, known for pushing conservative legal principles, to become U.S. Attorney General for the Environment and Natural Resources Division. As acting attorney general of the agency’s Civil Division, Clark became known as a staunch Trump supporter.

After losing the election to Biden, Trump wanted to elevate Clark because he would send letters to states stating that there was fraud.

“The Department will update you as we are able on investigatory progress, but at this time we have identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia,” read a letter Clark had drafted.

Eric Herschmann, former Trump attorney and senior adviser, called the Clark draft letter to pressure state officials “asinine.”

Herschmann recalled a meeting with Clark in December 2020, when Trump was considering making Clark the acting attorney general, and Clark told Herschmann that he would send that letter.

“I told him ‘Congratulations, you just admitted that the first act you’d take as attorney general would be committing a felony – you’re clearly the right candidate for this job,” Herschmann told the committee.

No Film at 11

The committee was expected to hear from a documentary filmmaker who chronicled the final six weeks of the Donald Trump presidency – but either he was bumped, or the committee just ran out of time.

Alex Holder, of AJH Films, is complying with the congressional subpoena, providing video footage of Trump and his family and staff members. The footage comes from Holder’s three-part documentary, “Unprecedented,” set for release this summer.

Now that footage may not be seen until the committee re-convenes in July.

Highlights From Previous Hearings:

Day 4 on June 21 included Republican state officials from around the country telling the committee how Trump tried to pressure them to overturn election results, including sending supporters to officials’ homes, waving weapons and shouting insults and threats of violence here.

Day 3 kicked off June 16 with testimony focusing on the intense pressure President Trump put on Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election. John Charles Eastman, an attorney and campaign advisor to Donald Trump and his election team, emerged as a key architect of the plan. Read about Day 3 highlights here.

Day 2 testimony on June 13 included new allegations of Trump campaign-donor fraud, former Attorney General Bill Barr saying Trump’s claims of a stolen election were “complete nonsense,” and tales of a drunken Rudy Giuliani offering election night advice, giving rise to “Team Rudy” and “Team Normal.” Read about Day 2 highlights here.

Day 1 on June 7 showed how Trump “summoned a violent mob” to pressure lawmakers to overturn the election results. The day included testimony from documentary maker Nick Quested, who filmed the Proud Boys storming the Capitol. Capitol police officer Caroline Edwards testified about how she tried to fight off violent protestors on Jan. 6. Read Day 1 highlights here.