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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4:21 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

The committee just heard testimony from former top DOJ officials. Here are the key moments so far.

Steven Engel, former assistant general for the office of legal counsel, from left, Jeffrey A. Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Richard Donoghue, former acting Deputy Attorney General, are sworn in to testify as the House select committee on Thursday.
Steven Engel, former assistant general for the office of legal counsel, from left, Jeffrey A. Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Richard Donoghue, former acting Deputy Attorney General, are sworn in to testify as the House select committee on Thursday. (Jacquelyn Martin/AP)

The Jan. 6 committee investigating the insurrection at the US Capitol is taking a break.

The committee is focusing on how former President Donald Trump tried to use the Justice Department to bolster his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. 

So far, the committee heard live testimony from three top officials who led the Justice Department in the final days of the Trump administration. They testified about how the then-President implemented a pressure campaign to give baseless fraud allegations credibility and how Trump considered replacing the acting attorney general with an official more receptive to his false claims.

Here’s who was on the panel:

  • Jeffrey A. Rosen, former acting attorney general
  • Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general
  • Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general for the office of legal counsel

The committee is also focusing on the role of Jeffrey Clark, a former DOJ lawyer who pushed Trump’s fraud claims inside the Justice Department. Clark himself is not testifying, but the committee is presenting evidence that showed how that push was rejected by Rosen and Donoghue, which led to Trump considering putting Clark in charge of the department.

Here are the key moments so far:

  • Letters pushing election fraud to states: Clark wrote a draft of a letter that was intended to be sent to the Georgia state legislature and other states claiming election fraud and urging states to convene a special session. In addition to Clark's signature, there was also a place for Rosen and Donoghue to sign, according to exhibits shown by the committee. They both refused to sign the letter, according to the committee.
  • Notes on Trump’s fraud claims: Donoghue 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. During the meeting, Donoghue said he tried to explain to Trump on “numerous occasions” that there was no evidence of fraud. In the notes, Donoghue wrote that he said the Justice Department can’t and won’t change the outcome of the election. In response to this, he said Trump told him and another top Justice Department official that they should “just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
  • Jan. 3, 2021 meeting in the Oval Office: Top Justice Department and White House officials pushed back against Clark during the high-stakes Oval Office meeting where Trump considered installing him as attorney general so he could use the powers of the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election. Donoghue said in a video deposition clip that 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.” 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.
  • Barr authorized DOJ investigation: 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.” 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. Rosen took over after him.
  • Outside the committee hearing: Federal investigators on Wednesday conducted a search of Clark's home, people briefed on the matter tell CNN. A spokesperson for the US Attorney's Office in Washington confirmed that "there was law enforcement activity in the vicinity" of Clark's home but declined to comment on any particular person or activity. Clark had met with the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 back in February, but pleaded the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times during his nearly two hours-long depositions.
4:09 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

The committee is taking a short break

The Jan. 6 committee is taking a short break. 

4:43 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Giuliani said DOJ head shouldn't be "frightened of what's going to be done to their reputation" in video

Former President Trump's attorney Rudy Guliani is shown in a pre-recorded video on Thursday during the hearing.
Former President Trump's attorney Rudy Guliani is shown in a pre-recorded video on Thursday during the hearing. (House Recording Studio)

While Rep. Adam Kinzinger was questioning former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, the Jan. 6 House select committee showed video of a deposition with former President Donald Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani discussing the type of individual they were looking for to head the Justice Department.

In the video, Giuliani was asked:

"Do you remember recommending to anybody that Mr. Clark — meaning Jeffrey Clark at DOJ — be given election-related responsibilities?" 
He answered: "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."

In the hearing, Kinzinger asked Donoghue: "When you told the president that you wouldn't pursue baseless claims of fraud, was it because you were worried about your reputation?"  

"No, not at all," he answered.

4:10 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Rep. Scott Perry pushed for Jeffrey Clark to take over DOJ

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

US Rep. Scott Perry pushed for then-Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark to take over the department during meetings at the White House in late December 2020 and early January 2021, according to taped testimony by a former aide to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows played during Thursday’s House Jan. 6 committee hearing. 

“He wanted Mr. Clark – Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice,” Cassidy Hutchinson, the former Meadows aide, says about Perry in the clip. 

Hutchinson’s testimony underscores how Perry acted as a conduit between Clark and former President Donald Trump as he sought to enlist the Justice Department in his bid to overturn the 2020 election. 

In an April court filing, the committee released text messages between Meadows and Perry showing that a plan was taking shape to overhaul DOJ leadership. 

CNN has also previously reported on Perry’s role in efforts to install Clark as attorney general – which Trump nearly did in the days leading up to Jan. 6, 2021. 

5:32 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Trump to DOJ: "Just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me"

From CNN's Marshall Cohen 

Former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue testified Thursday that, during the presidential transition, Donald Trump told him and another top Justice Department official that they should “just say that the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.” 

Last summer, CNN reported about Trump’s comments. They surfaced during a previous congressional inquiry into the former president's dealings with the Justice Department during the final months of his presidency. Donoghue cooperated with that investigation and provided a copy of his handwritten notes, which captured Trump’s comments. 

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, said during Thursday's hearing that the comment demonstrated how Trump was trying to abuse and weaponize the Justice Department to cling onto power, after losing the 2020 election. 

“The President wanted the top Justice Department officials to declare that the election was corrupt, even though, as he knew, there was absolutely no evidence to support that statement,” Kinzinger said. 

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.

Watch:

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.