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A president desperate to retain power and embroiled in a multi-layered conspiracy fringe Internet conspiracies, pressures top Justice Department officials and the straws of legitimacy for his election lies – facts be damned Is.
“Just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen,” former President Trump said Thursday, according to testimony from former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue at a January 5 committee hearing.
Donoghue, who took contemporary notes on that conversation, and several others with the former president, insisted it was an “accurate” quote. Trump made the remarks in the transition period between losing the 2020 presidential election and the January 6 uprising.
It was one of several dramatic moments of hearing that painted – in vivid color – scenes that seemed straight out of a Hollywood political thriller.
But it was not a film.
It was the last days of the Trump presidency – and these hearings showed just how thin a string was holding American democracy.
Here are four important things from the hearing:
1. In the description of the pressure on the Justice Department, Trump is shown crossing the limits of the department’s independence.
Justice Department officials serve at the pleasure of the president, but the president’s interference in the department’s investigation and internal working has long been rejected in American tradition.
None of this mattered to Trump, according to multiple witnesses on Thursday.
Trump called and met with top Justice Department officials almost every day of Election Day, presenting them with false allegations for investigation. But when he was told that there was no evidence for conspiracy theory after conspiracy theory, it was not enough for him, witnesses said.
“We have an obligation to tell the people this was an illegal, corrupt election,” Donoghue recalled telling Trump of his notes shown on the screen behind committee members.
The clock was ticking on Trump, and the committee portrayed Trump as a man who would do almost anything to stay in power — and saw the Justice Department as a vital vehicle.
He publicly disagreed with his attorney general, Bill Barr, who stepped down under pressure. Trump wanted Barr to appoint a special counsel. Conspiracy theorist lawyer Sidney Powell testified on camera that Trump had asked him to be that special counsel.
Trump leaned on the new acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, calling or meeting with him almost every day with the exception of Christmas and New Year’s Eve, Rosen testified. And Trump threatened to replace Rosen with someone who would like Act on your election lies.
2. If senior DOJ officials don’t get along, Trump will find someone who will.
Trump threatened to install lower-level DOJ environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark in the top job. Representative Scott Perry introduced Clark to Trump, and Clark was ready to do Trump’s bidding.
Officials said Clarke was going behind the backs of his superiors to meet with the president, violating department protocol. Clarke drafted a letter pressuring state officials to take steps to reverse the election, citing evidence that he had no problem with voting.
“This other guy could just do something,” Trump told Rosen, Rosen recalled, seeing Trump’s frustration with Rosen as legitimate for not pursuing his election.
Donoghue, for the record, said he and others in the department investigated each of Trump’s far-right conspiracies. All were without merit, he said. He and Rosen testified and said so to Trump – repeatedly correcting him “in a serial fashion”, Trump moved from one allegation to the next.
Trump and his chief of staff Mark Meadows also spoke about a far-right conspiracy theory that Italian satellites were rigged to get the vote from Trump to Biden. It went so far that despite Donoghue calling the theory “pure insanity” and “apparently absurd”, at the request of Meadows, Acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller called the Defense Attaché in Rome, who also dismissed the plot.
However, Trump thought there was something there. Why? As Donoghue notes, Trump said, “You guys are not following the Internet as I do.”
Frustrated, Trump nearly appointed Clark’s attorney general. When Donoghue insisted in a high-pressure Oval Office meeting that he and several others would resign, he was only stunned when Trump took this drastic step.
“What do I have to lose?” Trump said at one point, per Donoghue. Donoghue tried enough to convince him personally – and the country – to lose.
Donoghue told Trump that Clarke’s promises were hollow, that he could not do what Trump wanted, and that he could do so in a matter of days, especially because the allegations had already been investigated – and turned out to be false.
“It’s absurd,” Donoghue said as he told Trump. “It’s not going to happen, and that’s going to fail.”
3. Many members of Congress apologized
Another key element of Thursday’s hearing was the revelation that several right-wing Republican members of Congress, who were involved in one way or another on Jan. 6, apologized.
Multiple witnesses, including lawyers and White House staffers, testified that at least five, perhaps six, Republicans apologized — Reps. Matt Getz, R-Fla., Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Louis Gohart, R-Texas, Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., and Scott Perry, R-Pa.
There was some question whether Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga. Asked for one, as well, a White House staffer testified that he had heard Greene, but did not know beforehand. Green denies that he asked for one.
Everyone has denied wrongdoing.
“The only reason I want to apologize is if you’ve committed a crime,” said R-Ill representative Adam Kizinger, who led the inquiry on Thursday.
Of course, it’s also possible that these members, so deeply entrenched in the conspiracy, that in their minds, a newly created Justice Department under a Democratic president, would go after them.
“Requesting a pardon is not a crime in the United States,” said a committee member on CNN, Rep. Jamie Ruskin, D-MD, after hearing his colleagues who had sought an apology. “No one can be prosecuted for this, but I think if we use our common sense, if we use our Tom Pionian common sense, it will indicate a consciousness of guilt or some fear That you could be prosecuted for what you did.”
4. No one was too big or too small for Trump’s pressure campaign in his desperate attempt to stay in power.
These five days of hearing have shown how far Trump will go to seize power.
His pressure was incredible and versatile. And no one was immune, to others tasked with enforcing the election from the people in government as their vice president and top Justice Department officials, such as Wandrea “Shay” Moss.
Moss testified Tuesday that his life was turned upside down, that his personal life was literally destroyed by Trump’s no-holds-barred bid to stick to the White House.
He pressured hardworking local election officials, who usually go unnoticed – let alone death threats – to go along with the plans he and those around him have used to dismantle the American election system. Was forged.
It pains Trump that it didn’t work, that for all his efforts, he couldn’t make it go away. With all this being cast in a bright light, it will be remarkable to see how Americans proceed after this. Will Trump continue to wield that kind of influence in the Republican Party, or will he appear more vulnerable if he decides to run again in 2024?