WASHINGTON — Donald Trump tried to subvert the Justice Department into supporting his scheme to overturn democracy and remain in power but backed off when his own appointees there threatened to resign en masse, the Jan. 6 committee began laying out in testimony Thursday.
Trump had wanted to install a department lawyer willing to lie for him in letters to a half-dozen states where Trump had narrowly lost to Democrat Joe Biden. The letters falsely claimed that the department had found evidence of voter fraud and urged state officials to reverse Biden’s victory.
“In fact, Donald Trump knew this was a lie,” Wyoming Republican Liz Cheney, the committee’s vice chair, said.
Because acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen refused to send out the false letters, Trump wanted to fire him and replace him with Jeffrey Clark, who headed the department’s environmental division but whose eagerness to carry out Trump’s demands was brought to his attention by Pennsylvania Republican Rep. Scott Perry.
Eric Herschmann, a top Trump White House lawyer who previously appeared via videotape advising leading coup-plotter John Eastman to get a “f**king” good criminal defense lawyer, returned to the video screen Thursday, explaining that he told Clark, after hearing his proposal, that his first action as attorney general would be committing a felony.
“I thought the proposal was asinine,” he said in the clip.
At a White House meeting with Trump, though, Rosen’s deputy, Richard Donoghue, told Trump that he and others in top leadership would all resign in protest should he follow through. Trump wound up backing down.
“He wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies,” said committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi.
Testifying Thursday were Rosen, Donoghue and Steven Engel, the former head of the department’s Office of Legal Counsel.
Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general, recounted a 90-minute conversation with Trump on Dec. 27 in which the president brought up false conspiracy theory after false conspiracy theory, complaining that the department was not investigating them.
Donoghue ― who took extensive notes of that conversation, some of which showed up as slides on the vid...