Donald Trump treated the Department of Justice as his own personal legal team throughout his presidency — and attempted to use the agency to hang onto that power after his 2020 election loss, according to witness testimony that will be presented by the January 6 committee Thursday. “Some argued to the former president and public that the election was corrupt and stolen,” former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen said in a written statement to House investigators. “That view was wrong then and it is wrong today, and I hope our presence here today helps reaffirm that fact.”
In four days of high profile hearings, the select committee investigating the Capitol attack and its lead-up have detailed how Trump and his cronies pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence and local elections officials to help him overturn Joe Biden‘s 2020 victory. On Thursday, the fifth day of hearings and the last until the committee summarizes its public presentations in July, the panel will demonstrate how the former president executed a similar pressure campaign on the DOJ in his desperate effort to remain in the White House.
Much is already known about that effort, which has been documented in public reports and in previous testimony on Capitol Hill, including that of a former Attorney General William Barr before the January 6 committee. But the panel is also expected to present new information about Trump’s attempts to strong-arm the DOJ, which included demands that top officials — including Rosen, Richard Donoghueand Steven Engel, all of whom are appearing on Capitol Hill Thursday — cast doubt on Biden’s victory to lay the foundation for the fraudulent electors plot Trump’s team was simultaneously pursuing. (That scheme, a focus of Tuesday’s hearing, involved sending Pence an alternate slate of pro-Trump voters to certify January 6 instead of the official ones reflecting the results of the 2020 vote.)
The officials refused to do so, leading Trump to threaten to fire Rosen at a January 3 meeting and replace him with Jeffrey Clark — the DOJ official who was prepared to “reverse the department’s investigative conclusion” and to send “fraudulent letters urging state legislatures to withdraw” their certified electors, a committee aide told reporters ahead of the hearing. But Donoghue and Engel threatened to resign if Trump fired Rosen and promised a mass exodus from the DOJ; Donoghue, the deputy AG, recounted Engel warning in that heated Oval Office meeting that Clark would be “leading a graveyard” if Trump dismissed Rosen. The former eventually president relented.
“President Trump only failed here,” the aide told reporters, “because the senior Department of Justice leadership team stood up and threatened to resign rather than help the president subvert the democratic process.”
That, of course, has been a theme of these hearings throughout: despite a maximum pressure campaign by Trump and his allies in the wake of his reelection loss, the system held up thanks to officials doing their jobs — often at significant personal cost. The committee — which has obtained new evidence, including documentary footage from a filmmaker with deep access to Trump and those in his orbit at the time of the January 6 attack — is making the case that the former president and his allies of him committed crimes in the aftermath of the 2020 election. But it is also sounding alarm bells: Trump failed to dismantle democracy in 2020, but came disturbingly close to succeeding — and still could, in the future, if given the chance.