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CNN Live Event/Special
January 6 Committee Hearing Focuses on Trump's Pressure on DOJ. Aired 3:30-4p ET
Aired June 23, 2022 - 15:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BENNIE THOMPSON (D-MS): Thank you. From the time you took over from Attorney General Barr until January 3rd, how often did President Trump contact you, or the department, to push allegations of election fraud?
JEFFREY ROSEN, FORMER ACTING ATTORNEY GENERAL: So, between December 23rd and January 3rd, the president either called me or met with me virtually every day with one or two exceptions like Christmas day. And before that, because it had been announced that I would become the acting Attorney General before the date I actually did, the president had asked that Rich Donahue and I go over and meet with him I believe on December 15th as well.
THOMPSON: So, after you had some of these meetings and conversations with the president, what things did the president raise with you?
ROSEN: So, the common element of all of this was the president expressing his dissatisfaction that the Justice Department, in his view, had not done enough to investigate election fraud. But at different junctures, other topics came up at different intervals. So, at one point, he had raised the question of having a special counsel for election fraud.
At a number of points, he raised request that I meet with his campaign counsel, Mr. Giuliani. At one point, he raised whether the Justice Department would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court. At a couple of junctures, there were reflections about making public statements or about holding a press conference. At one of the later junctures, was this issue of sending a letter to state legislatures in Georgia or other states. And -- so, there were different things raised at different intervals with a common theme being his dissatisfaction about what the Justice Department had done to investigate election fraud.
I will say that the Justice Department declined all of those requests that I was just referencing because we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them.
THOMPSON: Thank you. So, Mr. Donahue, on December 15th, the day after Attorney General Barr announced his resignation, the president summoned you and Mr. Rosen to the White House. At this meeting with the president, what did he want to discuss? RICHARD DONAHUE, FORMER ACTING DEPUTY ATTORNEY GENERAL: There were a
number of topics of discussion that day, Mr. Chairman. Much of the conversation focused on the report that had been recently release relating to Antrim County in Michigan. I believe on December 13th. An organization called the Allied Security Group issued a report that alleged that the Dominion voting machines in the county had a 68 percent error rate. The report was widely covered in the media. We were aware of it. We obtained a copy at on the 14th of December. The day prior recirculated it to U.S. attorneys in Michigan for their awareness. And we had a number of discussions internally.
But the conversation with the president on that day the 15th was largely focused on that. And he was essentially saying have you seen this report? He was adamant that the report must be accurate that it proved that the election was defective. That he in fact won the election and the department should use that report to basically tell the American people that the results are not trustworthy. And he went on to other theories as well but the bulk of that conversation on December 15th focused on Antrim County, Michigan and the ASOG report.
THOMPSON: Thank you. Mr. Engel, we know Attorney General Barr announced on December 1st, 2020 that the Department of Justice had found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the outcome of the election. So, from December 1, 2020, until today, as you sit here, have you ever doubted that topline conclusion?
STEVEN ENGEL, FORMER ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE OFFICE OF LEGAL COUNSEL: No, I've never had any reason to doubt Attorney General Barr's conclusion. THOMPSON: Thank you. Pursuant to 5C-8 of House resolution 503, the
chair now recognizes the gentleman from Illinois, Mr. Kinzinger for questions.
REP. ADAM KINZINGER (R-IL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
In the weeks leading to January 6, the Department of Justice was fielding almost daily requests from the president to investigate claims of election fraud. Each claim was refuted time and time again. An effort Attorney General Barr described as "whack-a-mole."
When each of the president's efforts failed, he resorted to installing a new Attorney General to say the election was illegal and corrupt simply so he can stay in power. President Trump started leaning on the Justice Department the first chance he got. On November 29, his first television interview after the election.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, FOX NEWS: Where is the DOJ and FBI in all of this Mr. President? You have laid out some serious charges here. Shouldn't this be something that the FBI is investigating? Are they?
DONALD TRUMP, FORMER PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Missing in action. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE, FOX NEWS: Is the DOJ investigating?
TRUMP: Missing in action. Can't tell you where they are.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: Republican Congressmen echoed the president just two days later. They wrote a letter to Attorney General Barr laying into the Justice Department for a, quote, shocking lack of action in investigating the claims of election fraud.
That same day, Attorney General Barr stated publicly that President Trump's claims had no merit. Ignoring the top law enforcement officer in the country, Republican Congressmen amplify the stolen election message to the American public. Let's listen.
REP. LOUIE GOHMERT (R-TX): And so, there's widespread evidence of fraud because people haven't done their jobs. Durham and Barr will deserve a big notation in history when it's written of the rise and fall of the United States if they don't clean up this mess, cleanup the fraud. Do your job's and save this little experiment and self- governments.
REP. ANDY BIGGS (R-AX): Again, I join my colleagues in calling on Attorney General Barr to immediately let us know what he's doing.
REP. PAUL GOSAR (R-AZ): We're already working on challenging the certified electors. And then, what about the courts? How pathetic are the courts?
REP. MATT GAETZ (R-FL): January 6th, I'm joining with the fighters in the Congress and we Are going to object to electors from states that didn't run clean elections.
Democracy is left undefended if we accept the result of a stolen election without fighting with every bit of vigor we can muster.
REP. JIM JORDAN (R-OH): The ultimate date of significance is January 6th. This is how the process works. The ultimate arbiter here, the ultimate check and balance is the United States Congress. And when something is done in an unconstitutional fashion, which happened in several of these states, we have a duty to step forward and have this debate and have this vote on the sixth of January.
REP: MO BROOKS (R-AL): Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass.
KINZINGER: Mr. Donahue, on December 27th, you had a 90 minute conversation with the president where he raised false claim after false claim with you and Mr. Rosen. How did you respond to what you called a, quote, stream of allegations.
DONAHUE: The December 27th conversation was, in my mind, an escalation of the earlier conversations as the former acting AG indicated. There were a lot of communications that preceded that. As we got later in the month of December, the president's entreaties became more urgent. He became more adamant that we weren't doing our job. We need to step up and do our job.
And he had this arsenal of allegations that he wanted to rely on. And so, I felt in the conversation that it was incumbent upon me to make it very clear to the president what our investigations had revealed. And that we had concluded, based on actual investigations, actual witness interviews, actual reviews of documents, that these allegations simply had no merit. And I wanted to try to cut through the noise because it was clear to us there were a lot of people whispering in his ear, feeding him these conspiracy theories and allegations. And I felt that being very blunt in that conversation might help make it clear to the president these aggregations were simply not true.
And so, as he went through them, and what for me was a 90 minute conversation or so, and what for the former acting AG was a two hour conversation. As the president went through them, I went piece by piece to say no, that's false. That is not true. And to correct him really in a serial fashion as a move from one theory to another.
KINZINGER: Can you give me an example of one or two of these theories?
DONAHUE: So, one that was very clear at that point was the Antrim County, the ASOG report that I mentioned earlier. Allied Security Operations Group releases report that said a 68 percent error rate. There was in fact in Antrim County a hand recount. It had nothing to do with the department. The department did not request that. That was pursuant to litigation brought by other parties. But there was a hand recount.
So, they were able to compare the hand recount to what the machines had reported. And for the ballots that were actually counted by machine, more than 15,000, there was one error, one ballot. And I did a quick calculation and came out with 0.00063 percent error rate which is well within tolerance.
And so, I made it very clear to the president -- because he was so fixated on ASOG report in the December 15 conversation -- that in fact, our investigation revealed that the error rate was 0.00063 percent. So, that Mr. President is an example of what people are telling you it is true and that you cannot and should not be relying on. So, that was one very explicit one. And that you can see that reflected in my notes.
We went through a series of others. The truck driver who claim to add moved an entire tractor-trailer of ballots from New York to Pennsylvania. That was also incorrect. We did an investigation with the FBI and interviewed witnesses, at the front end and backend of that trailer's transit from New York to Pennsylvania. We looked at loading manifests. We interviewed witnesses including of course the driver. And we knew it wasn't true. Whether the driver believe it or not, it was never clear to me. But it was just wasn't true. So, that was another one that I tried to educate the president on.
There were a series of others mostly in swing states of course. He wanted to talk a great deal about Georgia. The State Farm Arena video, which he believed for various reasons, was as he said it, fraud staring you right in the face.
KINZINGER: Were any of the allegations he brought up credible? Did you find any of them credible?
KINZINGER: So, during this conversation, did you take handwritten notes directly quoting the president?
DONAHUE: I did. And to make it clear, Attorney General Rosen called me on my government cell phone. Said he'd been on the phone with the president for some time. The president had a lot of these allegations. I was better versed in what the department had done, just because I had closer contact with the investigations and the AG asked me to get on the call. Of course, I agreed.
And I began taking notes only because at the outset, the president made an allegation I had not heard. I had heard many of these things, I knew many of them were investigated. But when the president -- at least when I came to the conversation -- when he began speaking, he brought up an allegation I was completely unaware of. And of course, that concerned us. So, I simply reached out and grabbed a notepad off my wife's nightstand and a pen and I started jotting it down.
That had to do with an allegation that more than 200,000 votes were certified in the state of Pennsylvania that were not actually cast. Sometimes, the president would say it was 205, sometimes he would say it was 250, but I had not heard this before. And I wanted to get the allegation down clearly so that we could look into it if appropriate. And that's why I started taking those notes. And then as the conversation continued, I just continued to take the notes.
KINZINGER: Let's look at the notes if we could right now. As we can see on the screen, you actually quote President Trump asking where is DOJ? Just like we heard them say in his first television interview. How did you respond to that?
DONAHUE: So, both the acting AG and I tried to explain to the president on this occasion and on several other occasions that the Justice Department has a very important, very specific but very limited role in these elections. States run their elections. We are not quality control for the states. We are obviously interested in and have a mission that relates to criminal conduct in relation to federal elections. We also have related civil rights responsibilities. So, we do have an important role.
But the bottom line was, if a state ran their elections in such way that it was defective, that is to the state or Congress to correct. It is not for the Justice Department to step in. And I certainly understood the president as a layman not understanding why the Justice Department didn't have at least a civil role to step in and bring suit on behalf of the American people. We tried to explain that to him.
The American people do not constitute the client for the United States Justice Department. The one and only client of the United States Justice Department is United States government.
And the United States government does not have standing as we were repeatedly told by our eternal teams, OLC, led by Steve Engel, as well is the office of the solicitor general. Researched it and gave us thorough, clear opinions that we simply did not have standing. We tried to explain that to the president on numerous occasions.
KINZINGER: Let's take a look at another one of your notes. You also noted that Mr. Rosen said to Mr. Trump, quote, DOJ can't and won't snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election. How did the president respond to that, sir?
DONAHUE: He responded very quickly and said essentially, that's not what I'm asking you to do. What I'm just asking you do is just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican Congressmen.
KINZINGER: So, let's now put up the notes where you quote the president. As you're speaking to that, he said the president said, just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republican Congressmen. So, Mr. Donahue, that's direct quote from President Trump, correct?
DONAHUE: That's an exact quote from the president. Yes.
KINZINGER: The next note shows even that the president pressing. Even though he was told there is no evidence of fraud, the president keeps saying that the department was, quote, obligated to tell people that this was an illegal, corrupt election.
DONAHUE: That's also an exact quote from the president. Yes.
KINZINGER: Let me be clear. Did the department find any evidence to conclude that there was anything illegal or corrupt about the 2020 election?
DONAHUE: There were isolated instances of fraud, none of them came close to calling into question the outcome of the election in any individual state.
KINZINGER: And how would you describe the president's good demeanor during that call?
DONAHUE: He was more agitated than he was on December 15th. The president throughout all of these meetings and phone conversations was adamant that he had won and that we were not doing our job. But it'd escalate over time until ultimately the meeting on January 3rd which was the most extreme of the meetings and conversations.
KINZINGER: So, I want to make sure we don't glosses this over. Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to us. The president wanted the top Justice Department officials to declare that the election was corrupt even though as he knew, it was absolutely no evidence to support that statement. The president didn't care about actually investigating the facts, he just wanted the Department of Justice to put its stamp of approval on the lies.
Who is going to help him? Jeff Clark. Mr. Rosen on Christmas Eve, your first official day as the acting Attorney General, President Trump called you. What did he want to talk about?
ROSEN: The same things he was talking about publicly. He wanted to talk about that he thought the election had been stolen or was corrupt and that there was widespread fraud. I had told him that our reviews had not shown that to be the case. So, we had an extended discussion, probably 15 maybe 20 minutes, something like that. With him urging that the Department of Justice should be doing more with regard to election fraud.
KINZINGER: Did he mention Jeff Clark's name?
ROSEN: Yes. It was just in passing. He made, what I regarded as a peculiar reference. I don't remember the exact quote. But it was something about, did I know Jeff Clark or did I know who he was or something like that? And I told him I did. And then the conversation just moved on. When I hung up, I was quizzical as to how does the president even know Mr. Clark? I was not aware they had ever met or that the president had been involved with any of the issues in the civil division.
KINZINGER: It was a bit of a surprise when he brought his name up?
KINZINGER: So, Mr. Clark was the acting head of the civil division and had of Environmental and Natural Resources Division at the Department of Justice. Do either of those divisions have any role whatsoever in investigating election fraud, sir?
ROSEN: No. And to my awareness, Jeff Clark had had no prior involvement of any kind with regard to the work that the department is doing, that Attorney General Barr was talked about to this committee.
KINZINGER: So, let's take a minute and explain why the president mention Jeff Clark's name to Mr. Rosen here on Christmas Eve. On December 21st, some Republican members of Congress met with President Trump in the White House to talk about overturning the 2020 election. Let's hear representative Marjorie Taylor Greene talk about how this meeting got set up.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE (R-GA): I was the only new member at the meeting. I called President Trump on Saturday and said we've got to have a meeting.
There's many of us that feel like this election has been stolen.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: We see that President Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows tweeted about that meeting right after it happened. He said, quote, several members of Congress just finished a meeting in the Oval Office with President Donald Trump, preparing to fight back against mounting evidence of voter fraud. Stay tuned.
On the same day, he met with these Republican members of Congress, President Trump called into a conservative political convention and he used the opportunity to pressure the Department of Justice to investigate his bogus claims.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
TRUMP: The problem is we need a party that's going to fight and we have some great congressmen and women that are doing it, and we have others, some great fighters. But we won this in a landslide. They know it, and we need backing from like the Justice Department and other people have to finally step up.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: The select committee obtained records from the National Archives that show that Scott Perry was one of the Congressman who joined that meeting. We learned from White House records that you'll now see on the screen that the very next day, Representative Perry returned to the White House. This time he brought a Justice Department official named Jeffrey Clark.
Representative Perry provided the following statement to his local TV affiliate.
He said, quote, throughout the past four years, I've worked with assistant Attorney General Clark on various legislative matters. When President Trump asked if I would make an introduction, I obliged.
But why Jeff Clark? Let's hear Mr. Giuliani explain the kind of person that he and the president wanted at top of Justice.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Do you remember recommending to anybody that Mr. Clark, meaning Jeffrey Clark at DOJ, be given election related responsibilities?
RUDY GIULIANI, FORMER TRUMP CAMPAIGN LAWYER: You mean, beyond the president?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Correct. GIULIANI: Well, beyond the president, I do recall saying to people
that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn't frightened of what's going to be done to their reputation. Because Justice was filled with people like that.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: So, put somebody that's not frightened of what's going to be done to their reputation. Mr. Donahue, when you told the president that you wouldn't pursue baseless claims of fraud, was is it because you were worried about your reputation?
DONAHUE: No, not at all.
KINZINGER: Mr. Clark's name was also mentioned in the White House in late December and early January, as described by a top aide to Mark Meadows, Cassidy Hutchinson.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Was it your understanding that Representative Perry was pushing for a specific person to take over the department?
CASSIDY HUTCHINSON, FORMER SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT: He wanted Mr. Clark, Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
KINZINGER: Mr. Rosen, after your call with President Trump on December 24th, you spoke with Mr. Clark on December 26th about his contact with the president. Can you tell us about that conversation?
ROSEN: Yes. Because I had been quizzical about why his name had come up, I called him and I tried to explore if he would share if there was something I ought to know. And after some back and forth, he acknowledged that shortly before Christmas, he had gone to a meeting in the Oval Office with the president. That of course, surprised me. And I asked him how did that happen? And he was defensive. He said it had been unplanned, that he had been talking to someone he referred to as General Perry -- but I believe is Congressman Perry.
And that unbeknownst to him, he was asked to go to a meeting. And he didn't know it but it turned out it was at the Oval -- he found himself at the Oval Office and he was apologetic for that. And I said well, you didn't tell me about it. It wasn't authorized and you didn't even tell me after the fact. Now this is not appropriate. But he was contrite and said it had been inadvertent and it would not happen again. And that if anyone asked him to go to such a meeting, he would notify Rich Donahue and me.
KINZINGER: Is there a policy that governs who can have contact directly with the White House?
[15:55:00] ROSEN: Yes. So, across many administrations for a long period of time, there's a policy -- that particularly with regard to criminal investigations -- restricts at both the White House and in the Justice Department end those more sensitive issues to the highest ranks. So, for criminal matters, the policy for a long time has been only the Attorney General and the deputy Attorney General from the DOJ side can have conversations about criminal matters with the White House. Or the Attorney General or the Deputy Attorney General can authorize someone for a specific item with their permission. But the idea is to make sure that the top rung of the Justice Department knows about it and is in the thing to control it and make sure only appropriate things are done.
KINZINGER: Mr. Engel, from your perspective, why is it important to have a policy like Mr. Rosen just discussed?
ENGEL: Well, it's critical that the Department of Justice conducts its criminal investigations free from either the reality or any appearance of political interference. And so, people can get in trouble if people at the White House are speaking with people at the department. And that's why the purpose of these policies is to keep these communications as infrequent and at the highest levels as possible, just to make sure that people who are less careful about it, who don't really understand these implications, such as Mr. Clark, don't run afoul of those contact policies.
KINZINGER: Thank you. So, the Select Committee conducted an informal interview with the White House counsel, Pat Cipollone, his deputy, Pat Philbin, about their contact with Mr. Clark. Though neither has yet agreed to sit jet for transcribed and videotaped interviews. But Pat Cipollone told the Select Committee that he intervened when he heard Mr. Clark was meeting with the president about legal matters without his knowledge, which was strictly against White House policy.
Mr. Cipollone and Mr. Philbin, like Mr. Rosen, told Mr. Clark to stand down, and he didn't. On the same day acting Attorney General Rosen told Mr. Clark to stop talking to the White House. Representative Perry was urging Chief of Staff Mark Meadows to elevate Clark within the Department of Justice.
You can now see on the screen behind me a series of texts between Representative Perry and Mr. Meadows. They show that Representative Perry requested that Mr. Clark be elevated within the department.
Representative Perry tells Mr. Meadows December 26th that, quote, Mark, just checking in as time continues to count down. 11 days until January 6th and 25 days to inauguration. We've got to get going.
Representative Perry followed up and says, quote, Mark, you should call Jeff. I just got off the phone with him, and he explained to me why the principal deputy won't work, especially with the FBI. They will view it as not having the authority to enforce what needs to be done.
Mr. Meadows responds with, I got it. I think I understand. Let me work on the deputy position. Representative Perry than texts, Roger, just sent you something on
Just sent you an updated file.
Did you call Jeff Clark?
Mr. Donahue, Representative Perry called you the next day on December 27th. Who told him to call you?
DONAHUE: My understanding is the president did at the outset of the call. Congressman Perry told me that he was calling at the behest of the president.
KINZINGER: What did he want to talk about?
DONAHUE: He wanted to talk about Pennsylvania in particular. He gave me some background about why he in particular doesn't trust the FBI and why the American people don't necessarily trust the FBI. And then he went into some allegations specific to Pennsylvania, which include amongst others this allegation that the Secretary of State had certified more votes than were actually cast.
KINZINGER: Did you direct that local U.S. attorney's office to investigate that claim?
DONAHUE: So, Mr. Perry said that he had a great deal of information, that investigations had been done, that there was some sort of forensic type report that would be helpful to me. And I didn't know Congressman Perry. I had never heard him before this conversation. But I said sir, if you've got something that you think is relevant to what the Justice Department's mission is, you should feel free to send it to me. I mean, he did, and I was enroute from New York to Washington. I got it. I looked at it on my iPhone. Obviously, I couldn't read the whole thing in transit like that. But I looked at it to get a feel for what it was and then I forwarded it to the United States Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
KINZINGER: Did they get back to you? What did they conclude?
DONAHUE: Scott Brady looked at it. He was the Western District of Pennsylvania U.S. Attorney. Took him a couple of days, but he got back in relatively short order with a pretty clear explanation for why there was no foundation for concern. The Secretary of State had not certified more votes than were actually cast. The difference between the 5.25 that was actually certified by the Secretary of State and the 5 million that was on a public facing website was that the information.