Jan. 6 committee holds fifth hearing

By Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:20 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022
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4:11 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Donoghue says he took handwritten notes after Trump made a voter fraud allegation

(House Recording Studio)
(House Recording Studio)

Richard Donoghue, former acting attorney general, said he took handwritten notes during a 90-minute conversation with former President Trump after he made a fraud allegation he "had not heard" before.

"I heard many of these things, I knew many of these were investigated but when the President, at least when I came into the conversation, when he began speaking, he brought up an allegation that I was completely unaware of. And that concerned us," he told the committee.

He continued, "So, I simply reached out and grabbed a notepad off my wife's nightstand and a pen 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 he could look into it if appropriate. And that is why started taking those notes and then as conversation continued, I continued to take the notes."  

Watch moment here:

3:56 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Rosen says Trump called or met with him nearly every day for over a week to push election fraud claims

Former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said that over roughly 12 days in late December 2020 and early January 2021, former President Trump contacted him nearly every single day to voice his displeasure with the Department of Justice.

"Between Dec. 23 and Jan. 3, the President either called me or met with me virtually every day with one or two exceptions like Christmas Day," Rosen said during the hearing.

While the communication was mainly about his dissatisfaction with the DOJ, Trump also brought up a number of other requests.

"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 requests that I meet with his campaign counsel, Mr. [Rudy] Giuliani. At one point, he raised whether the Justice Department would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court," he said.

"At a couple of junctures, there were questions 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," he continued.

Rosen added even before he had officially become acting attorney general on Dec. 23, the President had asked Rosen and his deputy, Richard Donoghue, to go to the White House to meet with him.

Rosen’s testimony underscored the intensity of Trump’s pressure campaign as he attempted to enlist the Justice Department to aid in his efforts to overturn the election. 

The DOJ declined all those requests because "we did not think that they were appropriate based on the facts and the law as we understood them," Rosen said.  

CNN's Jeremy Herb contributed to this post.


3:44 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Barr explains why he authorized DOJ to investigate election fraud

From CNN's Hannah Rabinowitz

Former Attorney General Bill Bar told the House select committee that he authorized the Justice Department to investigate election fraud in 2020 because if he didn’t, he wasn’t “sure we would have a transition at all.”

“I just felt the responsible thing to do was to be put in a position to have a view as to whether or not there was fraud,” Barr said in his recorded testimony. “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 move things forward.”

Barr added, “I sort of shudder to think what the situation would have been 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.”

Throughout its hearings, the committee has repeatedly played clips of Barr saying there was no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Barr publicly stated that DOJ had found no evidence of fraud in December 2020, and resigned as attorney general just a few weeks later.

3:43 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Kinzinger says Jeff Clark would do whatever Trump wanted, including overthrowing the election

CNN's Clare Foran

Rep. Adam Kinzinger speaks during a hearing of the House select committee on June 23.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger speaks during a hearing of the House select committee on June 23. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

After emphasizing that Justice Department leaders must operate without being influenced by inappropriate political pressure from the President, committee member GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger said "President Trump did find one candidate at Justice who seemed willing to do anything to help him stay in power."

Kinzinger went on to describe former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark as someone who would do whatever Trump wanted, "including overthrowing a free and a fair democratic election."

"So who is 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 a fair democratic election," Kinzinger said.

Clark is the former DOJ lawyer who Trump sought to install as attorney general in the days before the January 6 Capitol riot as top officials refused to go along with his vote fraud claims.

He was at the center of an effort by Trump to get the Justice Department to falsely claim there was enough voter fraud in Georgia and other states that he lost, in a last-minute bid to help sow doubt about Joe Biden's victory and pave the way for him to remain in power.

Federal investigators conducted a search Wednesday of the home of Clark, sources briefed on the matter told CNN.  

CNN's Evan Perez contributed reporting.

3:45 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Richard Donoghue, the former deputy attorney general, is answering questions now

Richard Donoghue, former deputy attorney general, testifies before the House select committee on Thursday.
Richard Donoghue, former deputy attorney general, testifies before the House select committee on Thursday. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Richard Donoghue, former deputy attorney general, is now testifying before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Donoghue has previously spoken with the committee behind closed doors, along with former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, about former President Donald Trump's pressure campaign against top Justice Department officials to investigate baseless claims of election fraud prior to Jan. 6, 2021.

3:39 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Top DOJ and White House officials "clobbered" Jeffrey Clark in Oval Office meeting

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

Top Justice Department and White House officials eviscerated Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark during a high-stakes Oval Office meeting in early January 2021, where then-President Donald Trump considered installing Clark as attorney general so he could use the powers of the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election.

“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,” former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said in a video deposition clip that was played Thursday, recalling what he told Trump during the critical Oval Office meeting.

Donoghue said he told Clark, “You’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.”

Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said Clark was repeatedly “clobbered over the head” during the meeting. He said that he explicitly told Clark that he was breaking the law, according to his videotaped deposition with the committee, a clip of which was played on Thursday.

“f*cking a-hole, congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you would take as attorney general would be committing a felony,” Herschmann said.

Herschmann later testified that he thought Clark’s plan was “nuts” and told the panel that he told Clark, “the best I can tell is the only thing you know about environmental and election challenges it they both start with E. And based on your answers tonight, I’m not even certain you know that.” 

According to Donoghue, then-White House Counsel Pat Cipollone said during the meeting that Clark’s plan to send letters to battleground states, encouraging them to interfere with the election results, was a “murder-suicide pact.” 

During the Oval Office meeting, these officials pummeled Clark’s ideas, even as he kept trying to explain to Trump that he would uncover widespread fraud if he was put in charge of the Justice Department. These officials successfully persuaded Trump to back away from the plan to fire then-Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and promote Clark.

3:40 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Kinzinger says hearing will expose "Trump's total disregard for the Constitution and his oath"

GOP Rep. Adam Kinzinger outlined the goal of today's Jan. 6 House select committee hearing: “Today, President Trump’s total disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed.”

Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the committee, also made an appeal to both sides of the aisle.

"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 it the other way around," he said.


6:23 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

White House lawyer describes his reaction to former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark's plan

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

White House lawyer under former President Donald Trump, Eric Herschmann, is displayed on a screen during the House select committee hearing on June 23.
White House lawyer under former President Donald Trump, Eric Herschmann, is displayed on a screen during the House select committee hearing on June 23. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

White House lawyer Eric Herschmann told the committee he reacted so strongly to top DOJ official Jeffrey Clark’s plans to use the department to investigate former President Donald Trump’s election lies that Herschmann called him a "f*cking a-hole" who was proposing to violate the law if he became attorney general.

"When he finished discussing what he planned on doing, I said, good f*cking a-hole, congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you would take as attorney general would be committing a felony" by violating grand jury secrecy rules, Herschmann said in a videotaped deposition played during Thursday’s hearing. "You're clearly the right candidate for this job," Herschmann said.

The comments from Herschmann — who's become one of the most colorful commentators whose quips the committee keeps showing — were presented near the start of Thursday's public hearing, about how Clark from within DOJ sought to help Trump challenge the 2020 election.

The committee did not provide additional context about what Clark had proposed to elicit Herschmann's sarcasm, but the exchange came as Clark was making a run at becoming Trump's acting attorney general.

Other top White House and Justice officials in the room with Clark opposed him taking over the department. They told Trump that if he had installed Clark, there would be mass resignations across DOJ. 

3:34 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Cheney says Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign official draft of letter claiming election fraud

Committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney said a key focus of the hearing today will be a draft letter written by Jeffrey Clark, then the department's top energy lawyer who had pushed Trump's fraud claims.

The letter was intended to be sent to the Georgia state legislature, Cheney said, adding other versions of the letter would also go to other states despite Clark having any evidence of the election fraud he was claiming.

"But they were quite aware of what Mr. Trump wanted the department to do," Cheney said.

The draft of the letter, as shown by the committee, claims the Department of Justice investigations have "identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the State of Georgia."

The letter recommended Georgia convene a special session and consider approving a new slate of electors.

"In fact, Donald Trump knew this was a lie. The Department of Justice had informed the President of the United States, repeatedly, that its investigations had found no fraud sufficient to overturn the results of the 2020 election," Cheney said.

In addition to Clark's signature, there was also a place for the acting attorney general and the acting deputy attorney general to sign, according to exhibits shown by the committee.

Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general at the time, and Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general, refused to sign the letter, Cheney said.

Both Rosen and Donoghue are testifying at the hearing on Thursday.

"This would be a grave step for the department to take," Donoghue wrote when he saw the letter, according to Cheney.

"Jeff Clark met privately with President Trump and others in the White House and agreed to assist the President without telling the senior leadership in the department who oversaw him," Cheney said.

Some background: Trump's push to get the Justice Department to verify his false election claims began what was a tumultuous period at the department in the lead-up to Jan. 6, 2021. When Rosen and Donoghue resisted these pushes from Trump and his allies, the then-President considered replacing Rosen with Clark.

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.