The congressional panel investigating the causes of last year’s Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol is hearing testimony Thursday about how former President Donald Trump pushed Justice Department officials to investigate allegations of fraud in the 2020 election that he hoped would upend his loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
House Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the panel would examine Trump’s “attempt to corrupt the country’s top law enforcement body,” much as state officials in Arizona and Georgia testified Tuesday that Trump unsuccessfully sought to get them to appoint bogus electors to help him stay in office for another four years or overturn votes showing Biden had defeated him.
In part, the Thursday hearing is expected to focus on the alleged efforts of Jeffrey Clark, a former assistant attorney general, to repeatedly push Justice Department officials to investigate election fraud claims and to force some states to “decertify” their election results showing Biden had won.
Associates say Trump considered naming Clark attorney general over acting attorney general Jeff Rosen, who, like his predecessor, former attorney general William Barr, said there was no evidence of fraud substantial enough to overturn Biden’s victory.
In a short video clip shown at the end of Tuesday’s hearing, Richard Donoghue, who served as acting U.S. deputy attorney general from December 2020 to January 2021, said he would have immediately quit if Trump had named Clark attorney general in the waning weeks of his administration.
Thursday’s hearing is the fifth this month as the investigative panel explores Trump’s role in fomenting the attack on the Capitol as lawmakers gathered to certify Biden’s presidential victory in the Electoral College.
About 2,000 Trump supporters, urged by Trump at a rally shortly beforehand to “fight like hell,” stormed into the Capitol past law enforcement officials, scuffling with police, vandalizing the building and ransacking congressional offices.
More than 800 of the protesters have been charged with an array of offenses, with 300 of them already pleading guilty or convicted at trials and imprisoned for terms ranging from a few weeks to more than four years.
Trump has derided the investigative panel, comprised of seven Democrats and two anti-Trump Republicans, saying its presentation is biased against him. To this day, he has claimed erroneously that he was cheated out of another term in the White House.
The investigative panel’s hearings were set to end with Thursday’s session. The committee is set to release its findings in late summer.
But Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, a committee member, told reporters, “We are picking up new evidence on a daily basis with enormous velocity, and so we’re constantly incorporating and including the new information that’s coming out.”
“There is evidence coming in from diverse sources now,” he said, “and I think that people have seen that we’re running a serious investigation that is bipartisan in nature, that is focused just on getting the facts of what happened, and a lot of people are coming forward now with information.”
Some key officials in the Trump administration have cooperated with the committee’s investigation. But others have balked, repeatedly invoking their constitutional right against self-incrimination and refusing to answer questions about Trump’s actions and their own in the post-election period and on Jan. 6. Two former Trump advisers, Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro, refused to cooperate and were indicted on contempt of Congress charges.
Republican Representative Liz Cheney, the panel’s vice chair, called on Pat Cipollone, Trump’s former White House counsel, to answer more questions than he already has.
At the center of Trump’s post-election efforts was an audacious scheme to overturn the vote counts in states where Trump lost or to have fake electors supporting Trump named in states where Biden narrowly defeated him.
In the United States, presidents are effectively chosen in separate elections in each of the 50 states, not through the national popular vote. Each state’s number of electoral votes is dependent on its population, with the biggest states holding the most sway. The rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 tried to keep lawmakers from certifying Biden’s eventual 306-232 victory in the Electoral College.
While the House committee cannot bring criminal charges, the Department of Justice is closely monitoring the hearings to determine whether anyone, Trump included, should be charged with illegally trying to reverse the election outcome.
A prosecutor in Atlanta, the capital of Georgia, has convened a grand jury investigation to probe Trump’s actions to overturn the vote in that state. Trump asked the state’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, to “find” him 11,780 votes — one more than Biden defeated him by — out of 5 million ballots.
The investigative panel has already heard testimony that key Trump aides told him he had lost the election and that there were a minimal number of voting irregularities, not enough to overturn Biden’s Electoral College victory.
In addition, Trump was told it would be illegal for then-Vice President Mike Pence to unilaterally block Biden’s victory as he presided over the congressional Electoral College vote count, as Trump privately and publicly implored Pence to do.