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Now: Jan 6 Committee Hearing Focuses On Trump's Pressure On DOJ. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired June 23, 2022 - 15:00   ET


DANA BASH, CNN CHIEF POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: It is going to be the first time, we will see and hear from Adam Kinzinger, one of only two Republicans, of course, on this committee and there's no question that that is not an accident that these are the highest ranking Republican officials on a federal level and he is a Republican who wants to, obviously, get to the bottom of it. But this symbolism of him being the one doing the question at will not be lost on anyone.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: So just to make sure people understand - one of the photographers is blocking - but on the right, you see the former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, there you see his face now and - that's him on the right. And on the left is the former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen. Those are the two witnesses that will be testifying first. Jamie Gangel?

JAMIE GANGEL, CNN SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT: Jake, we talk a lot with Trump about chaos. Everything was chaos. But if you look at the case the Committee has set out thus far, there is a tremendous pattern of persistence and coordination. First, Trump lies and declares victory. Then he goes and says that the election is stolen. There's this massive fundraising campaign. They've laid out crazy court cases, pressure on state and local officials, the pressure on Mike Pence. Now we're here to his attempt to corrupt the Justice Department.

TAPPER: Here's the Committee walking in, sorry to interrupt. That's the Chairman of the Committee, Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi followed by Liz Cheney, the Vice Chair of the Committee, a Republican from Wyoming. Behind her, Congressman Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois. Congressman Kinzinger, also a veteran who has served with the U.S. Air Force. He's also in the Air Force Reserves and he will be leading the hearing.

We've only we haven't heard from Kinzinger at all during the proceedings here. And I have to say, Abby Phillip, while we wait for them to gavel in, I'm kind of surprised that they haven't let Kinzinger and Cheney take the leadership role even more than they have.

ABBY PHILLIP, CNN SENIOR POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Yes. I mean, I think that there are a lot of people that need to speak but I think this hearing is a very significant one. And it's significant that he's the person doing it. We're going to hear about the backbone of the illegal effort to overthrow this election and that is at the core of everything that this series of hearings is all about.

It looks like Bennie Thompson is about to speak.

TAPPER: Let's listen in.

REP. BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): The Select Committee to investigate the January 6 attack on the United States Capitol will be an order. Without objection, the Chair is authorized to declare the Committee in recess at any point. Pursuant to House Deposition Authority Regulation 10, the Chair announces the Committee's approval to release the deposition material presented during today's hearing. Good afternoon.

In our previous hearings, the Select Committee show that then- President Trump applied pressure at every level of government, from local election workers up to his own vice president hoping public servants would give in to that pressure and help him steal an election he actually lost.

Today, we'll tell the story of how the pressure campaign also targeted the federal agency charged with enforcement of our laws, the Department of Justice. We are already covered part of Mr. Trump's effort. We heard from Attorney General Bill Barr tell the story in the Committee about the baseless claims Mr. Trump wanted the Justice Department to investigate and that Mr. Barr viewed those claims as nonsense.

Today, we'll hear from Jeffrey Rosen, the person Mr. Trump appointed to run the Justice Department after Attorney General Barr resigned. We hear from other senior Justice Department officials also. Together, these public servants resisted Mr. Trump's effort to misuse the Justice Department as part of his plan to hold on to power. And we will show that Trump's demands that the department investigate baseless claims of election fraud continued into January 2021.

But Donald Trump didn't just want the Justice Department to investigate, he wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies to basically call the election corrupt, to appoint a special counsel to investigate alleged election fraud to send a letter to six state legislatures urging them to come Sarah altering the election results.


And when these and other efforts failed, Donald Trump sought to replace Mr. Rosen, the acting attorney general, with a lawyer who he believed would inappropriately put the full weight of the Justice Department behind the effort to overturn the election. Let's think about what that means.

Wherever you live in the United States, there's probably a local government executive: a mayor or a county commissioner. There's also an official responsible for enforcing the laws, a district attorney or local prosecutor. Imagine if your mayor lost a reelection bid but instead of conceding the race, they picked up the phone, call the district attorney and said, I want you to say this election was stolen. I want you to tell the board of elections, not to certify the results. That's essentially what Donald Trump was trying to do with the election for President of the United States. It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the President's personal political agenda.

Today, my colleague from Illinois, Mr. Kinzinger, and other witnesses will walk through the Select Committee's findings on these matters. But first, I recognize our distinguished Vice Chair, Ms. Cheney of Wyoming, for any opening statement she's care to offer.

REP. LIZ CHENEY (R-WY): Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. At this point, our committee has just begun to show America the evidence that we have gathered. There is much more to come both in our hearings and in our report. But I'd like to take just a moment to put everything we've seen in context.

We have already seen how President Trump falsely declared victory on November 3rd 2020, how he and his team launched a fraudulent media campaign that persuaded 10s of millions of Americans that the election was stolen from him. Donald Trump intentionally ran false ads on television and social media, featuring allegations that his advisors and his justice department repeatedly told him were untrue. We have also seen how Donald Trump launched a fraudulent fundraising campaign that raised hundreds of millions of dollars, again, based on those same false election fraud allegations.

We've seen how President Trump and his allies corruptly attempted to pressure Vice President Pence to refuse to count lawful electoral votes and obstruct Congress's proceedings on January 6 and how he provoked a violent mob to pursue the Vice President and others in our capitol. We've seen how the President oversaw and personally participated in an effort in multiple states to vilify, threaten and pressure election officials and to use false allegations to pressure state legislators to change the outcome of the election. We've seen how President Trump worked with and directed the Republican National Committee and others to organize an effort to create fake electoral slates and later to transmit those materially false documents to federal officials, again, as part of his planning for January 6.

We have seen how President Trump persuaded 10s of thousands of his supporters to travel to Washington, D.C. for January 6th, and we will see in far more detail how the President's rally and march to the Capitol were organized and choreographed.

As you can tell, these efforts were not some minor or ad hoc enterprise concocted overnight, each required planning and coordination, some required significant funding. All of them were overseen by President Trump, and much more information will be presented soon regarding the president's statements and actions on January 6th.

Today, as Chairman Thompson indicated, we turn to yet another element of the President's effort to overturn the 2020 election, this one involving the Department of Justice. A key focus of our hearing today will be a draft letter that our witnesses here today refused to sign. This letter was written by Mr. Jeff Clark with another Department of Justice lawyer, Ken Klukowski, and the letter was to be sent to the leadership of the Georgia State Legislature. Other versions of the letter were intended for other states. Neither Mr. Clark nor Mr. Klukowski had any evidence of widespread election fraud but they were quite aware of what Mr. Trump wanted the department to do.


Jeff Clark met privately with President Trump and others in the White House and agreed to assist the president without telling the lead senior leadership of the department who oversaw him. As you will see, this letter claims that the U.S. Department of Justice's investigations have, quote, "Identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the State of Georgia.

In fact, Donald Trump knew this was a lie. The Department of Justice had already informed the President of the United States repeatedly that its investigations had found no fraud sufficient to overturn the results of the 2020 election. The letter also said this, quote, "In light of these developments, the Department recommends that the Georgia General Assembly should convene in special session," and consider approving a new slate of electors. And it indicates that a separate, quote, "Fake slate of electors supporting Donald Trump has already been transmitted to Washington, D.C."

For those of you who have been watching these hearings, the language of this draft Justice Department letter will sound very familiar. The text is similar to what we have seen from John Eastman and Rudy Giuliani, both of whom were coordinating with President Trump to overturn the 2020 election.

When one of our witnesses today, Mr. Donoghue, first saw this draft letter, he wrote this, quote, "This would be a grave step for the Department to take and it could have tremendous constitutional, political and social ramifications for the country." This committee agrees. Had this letter been released on official Department of Justice letterhead, it would have falsely informed all Americans, including those who might be inclined to come to Washington on January 6th that President Trump's election fraud allegations were likely very real.

Here's another observation about this letter. Look at the signature line. It was written by Jeff Clark and Mr. Klukowski, not just for Clark's signature, but also for our witnesses today, Jeff Rosen and Richard Donoghue. When it became clear that neither Mr. Rosen nor Mr. Donoghue would sign this letter, President Trump's plan necessarily changed.

As you will hear today, Donald Trump offered Mr. Clark the job of acting Attorney General replacing Mr. Rosen, with the understanding that clerk would send this letter to Georgia and other states and take other actions the President requested. One other point, millions of Americans have seen the testimony of Attorney General Barr before this committee.

At one point in his deposition, the former Attorney General was asked why he authorized the Department of Justice to investigate fraud in the 2020 election at all, why not just follow the regular course of action and let the investigations occur much later in time after January 6th. Here's what he said. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

WILLIAM BARR, FORMER U.S. ATTORNEY GENERAL: ... felt the responsible thing to do was to be in a position to have a view as to whether or not there was fraud. 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 moving things forward. And I sort of shudder to think what the situation would have been if the if the position of the Department was we're not even looking at this until after Biden's in office. I'm not sure we would have had a transition at all.


CHENEY: I want to thank each of our witnesses before us today for your role in addressing and rebutting the false allegations of fraud at the root of January 6th and thank you for standing up for the Constitution and for the rule of law. Of course, not all public officials behaved in the honorable way our witnesses did.

At the close of today's hearing, we will see video testimony by three members of Donald Trump's White House staff. They will identify certain of the members of Congress who contacted the White House after January 6th, to seek presidential pardons for their conduct. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.

THOMPSON: Without objection, the Chair recognizes the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Kinzinger, for an opening statement.

REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you to our witnesses for being here.

I'd like to start with a personal story. So in May of 2009, I returned from service in Iraq and I announced my intention to run for Congress.


A big reason I decided to run for Congress was my motivation to ensure freedom and democracy were defended overseas. I remember making a commitment out loud a few times and in my heart repeatedly even today that if we are going to ask Americans to be willing to die in service to our country, we as leaders must at least be willing to sacrifice our political careers when integrity and our oath requires it. After all, losing a job is nothing compared to losing your life. Within the halls of power in the face of a president that commitment can easily be forgotten, presidential pressure can be really hard to resist.

Today we'll focus on a few officials who stood firm against President Trump's political pressure campaign. When the President tried to misuse the department and install a loyalist at its helm, these brave officials refused and threatened to resign. They were willing to sacrifice their careers for the good of our country.

The Department of Justice is unique in the executive branch. The president oversees the Department of Justice, yet the President's personal or partisan interests must not shape or dictate the Department's actions. The president cannot and must not use the department to serve his own personal interest. And he must not use its people to do his political bidding, especially when what he wants them to do is to subvert democracy.

The president cannot pervert justice nor the law to maintain his power. Justice must both in fact and law be blind. That is critical to our whole system of self governance. During this hearing, you'll hear time and time again, about the President's request to investigate claims of widespread fraud. Our witnesses, Mr. Rosen, Mr. Donoghue and Mr. Engel stood firm in the face of overbearing political pressure, because they understood that their oath was to the Constitution and not to the personal or political interests of the president.

The President and his allies became keenly aware that with legal challenges exhausted and electoral votes certified, their only hope would be a last ditch scheme to prevent Congress from certifying the win, thus throwing the entire system into constitutional chaos. The President wanted the department to sow doubt in the legitimacy of the election, to empower his followers and members of Congress to take action.

If the department could just lend its credibility to the conspiracies, people would have the justification they needed to spread the big lie. So President Trump ultimately won at the Department of Justice to say the election was 'corrupt' and 'leave the rest to me' and the Republican congressmen.

As you will hear today, the Department's top leadership refused. Not surprisingly, President Trump didn't take no for an answer. He didn't accept it from Attorney General Barr, and he wouldn't accept it from Mr. Rosen either. So he looked for another attorney general, his third in two weeks.

He needed to find someone who was willing to ignore the facts. That is not the norm. Let's look at what attorneys general Democrats and Republicans alike have said about upholding their oath to the Constitution.


JEFF SESSIONS, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: Attorney general ultimately owes his loyalty to the integrity of the American people and to the fidelity to the Constitution and the legitimate laws of the country. That's what he's ultimately required to do.

ERIC HOLDER, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: I will be an independent attorney general. I will be the people's lawyer. If, however, there were an issue that I thought were that significant, that would compromise my ability to serve as attorney general in the way that I have described that as the People's Lawyer. I would not hesitate to resign.

MICHAEL MUKASEY, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: As you and I discussed, if the president proposed to undertake a course of conduct that was in violation of the Constitution that would present me with a difficult but not a complex problem, I would have two choices. I could either try to talk him out of it or leave. Those are the choices.

LORETTA LYNCH, FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL: The attorney general's position as a cabinet member is perhaps unique from all of the cabinet members. Yes, a member of the president's cabinet, but the Attorney General has a unique responsibility to provide independent and objective advice to the President or any agency when it is sought and sometimes perhaps even when it has not sought.


KINZINGER: Everyone in that video from Eric Holder to Jeff Sessions spoke as one about the independence of the department. It's a point of pride at justice to apply the law without the President's political self interests, tainting its actions or dictating how it uses its authorities.


But President Trump did find one candidate at justice who seemed willing to do anything to help them stay in power. Let's hear what President Trump's own lawyer Eric Herschmann had to say about Jeff Clark's plan to overturn the election. I'd like to advise viewers, this video contains some strong language.


ERIC HERSCHMANN (Former White House Lawyer): And when he finished discussing what he planned on doing, I said good fucking - excuse me, sorry - effing a-hole, congratulations, you just committed to first step or act you take as attorney general would be committing a felony and violating Rule 6(c). You're clearly the right candidate for this job.


KINZINGER: So who's Jeff Clark? 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 fair democratic election.

President Trump's campaign to bin the Justice Department to his political will culminated in a showdown on January 3rd. Today, we will take you inside that early evening Oval Office meeting, where top Justice Department officials met with the president. At stake, the leadership and integrity of the Department of Justice.


RICHARD DONOGHUE, FORMER ACTING DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: The meeting took about another two and a half hours from the time I entered. It was entirely focused on whether there should be a DOJ leadership change. I was sitting directly in front of the president. Jeff Rosen was to my right, Jeff Clark was to my left.

JEFFREY ROSEN, FORMER ACTING GENERAL: He looked at me and he underscored, "Well, the one thing we know is you're not going to do anything. You don't even agree that the concerns that are being presented are valid. And here's someone who has a different view. So why shouldn't I do that?" That's how the discussion then proceeded."

HERSCHMANN: Jeff Clark was proposing that Jeff Rosen be replaced by Jeff Clark. And I thought the proposal was asinine.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What were Clark's purported bases for why it was in the President's interest for him to step in, what would he do, what would - how would things change according to Mr. Clark in the meeting?

DONOGHUE: He repeatedly said to the President that if he was put in the seat he would conduct real investigations that would, in his view, uncover widespread fraud. He would send out the letter that he had drafted and that this was a last opportunity to sort of set things straight with this defective election and that he could do it and he had the intelligence, and the will, and the desire to pursue these matters in the way that the President thought most appropriate.

HERSCHMANN: He was making a pitch and every time he would get clobbered over the head. He would, like, say, like, they could call to order the President, it's your decision, you get the chance to make this decision and you've heard everybody and you can make your determination. And then we jump back in and literally clobber him.

DONOGHUE: I made the point that Jeff Clark is not even competent to serve as the Attorney General. He's never been a criminal attorney. He's never conducted a criminal investigation in his life. He's never been in front of a grand jury much less a trial jury. And he kind of retorted by saying, "Well, I've done a lot of very complicated appeals and civil litigation, environmental litigation and things like that." And I said, "That's right. You're an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office and we'll call you when there's an oil spill."

And Pat Cipollone weighed in at one point I remember saying, "That letter that this guy wants to send, that letter is a murder-suicide pact. It's going to damage everyone who touches it. And we should have nothing to do with that letter. I don't ever want to see that letter again." And so we went along those lines.

HERSCHMANN: I thought Jeff's proposal course proposal was nuts. I mean, this is a guy that said, at certain point, listen, the best I can tell is the only thing you know about environmental and elections challenges is they both start with E and based on your answer tonight, I'm not even certain you know that.

DONOGHUE: The President said, "Suppose I do this, suppose I replace him," Jeff Rosen, with him, Jeff Clark. "What do you do?"


KINZINGER: All we know these men before us did the right thing. But think about what happens if these justice officials make a different decision?


What happens if they bow to the pressure? What would that do to us as a democracy, as a nation? Imagine a future where the President could screen applicants to the Justice Department with one question, are you loyal to me or to the Constitution, and it wouldn't take long to find people willing to pledge their loyalty to the man.

We know many of President Trump's vocal supporters on January 6 also wanted the Justice Department to do whatever he asked, as long as it meant he could stay in power. They made sure Justice Department officials heard his message as they protested loudly in front of the department on their way to the Capitol on January 6th.


CROWD: Do your job. Do your job. Do your job. Do your job. Do your job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Live in D.C., we're marching to the Capitol. We are at the Department of Justice right now telling cowards to do their job.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to take the Capitol.

CROWD: Do your job. Do your job. Do your job.


KINZINGER: I want to take a moment now to speak directly to my fellow Republicans. Imagine the country's top prosecutor with the power to open investigations, subpoena, charge crimes and seek imprisonment. Imagine that official pursuing the agenda of the other party instead of that of the American people as a whole. And if you're a Democrat, imagine that the other way around.

Today, President Trump's total disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed. Now let's get this hearing underway, so we can do our part to protect the freedoms that we often take for granted so that we can see how close we came to losing it all. I now I yield back to the Chairman.

THOMPSON: We're joined today by three distinguished witnesses who each served in the Trump administration in the months preceding January 6th.

Mr. Jeffrey Rosen served at the Department of Justice from May 2019 until January 2021. With President Trump's nomination and the confirmation of the United States Senate, he became the United States Deputy Attorney General. In December 2020, he took the mantle of Acting Attorney General.

Mr. Richard Donoghue has served in the Department of Justice for over 14 years. Mr. Donohue was a United States Attorney for the Eastern District of New York, then became Mr. Rosen's Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General and finally Acting Deputy Attorney General. Mr. Donohue also served more than 20 years in the United States military, including the 82nd Airborne and the Judge Advocate General Corps.

We're also joined by Mr. Steven Engel, the former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel. He was nominated by the former president and confirmed by the Senate during the Trump administration. He served from November 2017 to January 2021 and has now returned to private practice.

I will now swear in our witnesses. Will the witnesses will please stand and raise their right hand.

Do you swear or affirm under penalty of perjury that the testimony you're about to give is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help you God?

JEFFREY ROSEN (Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel): I do.

RICHARD DONOGHUE (Former Acting Deputy Attorney General): I do.

STEVEN ENGEL (Former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel): I do.

THOMPSON: Thank you. You may be seated.

Let the record reflect the witnesses all answered in the affirmative. I now recognize myself for questions.

First of all, gentlemen, thank you for being here today. All of you served at former President Trump's pleasure at the Department of Justice in top leadership positions with tremendous responsibilities. Former Attorney General Bill Barr told the Select Committee that before he left the department in December 2020, he told President Trump on at least three occasions there were no evidence of widespread election fraud that would have changed the results of the presidential election and refuted numerous specific claims of election fraud the President was making.

Mr. Rosen, after Mr. Barr announced his resignation, did Donald Trump continued to demand that the Department of Justice investigate his claims of election fraud?

ROSEN: Yes, he asserted that he thought the Justice Department had not done enough.


THOMPSON: Thank you.