US President Donald Trump considered installing a loyalist at the top of the Justice Department after the resignation of his attorney general Bill Barr (left)
Washington (AFP) - Lawmakers investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol were set Thursday to lay out Donald Trump’s efforts to turn the Justice Department into his “own personal” law firm in his bid to overturn his election defeat.
At the fifth hearing into its year-long probe of the violence, the House of Representatives panel will highlight Trump’s attempts “to corrupt the country’s top law enforcement body, the Justice Department, to support his attempt to overturn the election,” chairman Bennie Thompson said.
Lawmakers will revisit tensions among government attorneys the weekend before the January 6, 2021 insurrection, when Trump tried to install his own man at the top of the department.
“We’ll look specifically at how the president was trying to misuse the department to advance his own agenda to stay in power at the end of his term,” an aide to the committee said.
“And we’ll look at how that really is different from historical precedent and how the president was using the DOJ for his own personal means.”
The witnesses will be Jeffrey Rosen, an acting attorney general in the dying days of the Trump administration, his deputy Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, a former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.
Rosen took over the department after Bill Barr resigned, and soon found himself at the center of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the integrity of the election.
The DOJ pursued a deluge of Trump’s election fraud claims, but Rosen said officials were presented with no evidence.
“Some argued to the former president and public that the election was corrupt and stolen,” Rosen said in written remarks prepared ahead of the hearing.
“That view was wrong then and it is wrong today, and I hope our presence here today helps reaffirm that fact.”
Trump began supporting a little-known mid-level department official named Jeffrey Clark, who embraced the outgoing president’s debunked theories.
- Oval Office showdown -
Clark pushed colleagues to issue letters to multiple states that presidential challenger Joe Biden won, encouraging officials to consider overturning their election results.
Trump considered installing Clark as attorney general over Rosen, and having Clark reverse the department’s conclusion that there was no evidence of fraud that could sway the election.
But Trump was forced to back off by a rebellion in the department’s senior ranks that the committee said it would relive as it takes the public “into the Oval Office” for the dramatic showdown.
In that January 4 meeting Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and White House counsel Pat Cipollone threatened to resign en masse, warning that they would take a raft of top federal prosecutors with them, if Trump went ahead with his plan.
The panel says it will also reveal how Trump sought to appoint an independent special counsel to pursue his fraud claims, which was resisted by the department.
“And we’ll also look at how the former president threatened to replace or fire leadership within the DOJ and how, again, a few senior Republican officials within the DOJ stood up to Trump’s pressure campaign,” the aide said.
The committee is planning a break from public hearings to assess what it called “significant new streams of evidence” – meaning Thursday’s will be the last until early-to-mid July.
The new evidence includes footage from documentary filmmaker Alex Holder, who had access to Trump and his family before and after January 6.