US President Donald Trump considered installing a loyalist at the top of the Justice Department after the resignation of his attorney general Bill Barr (left)
Washington (AFP) - Lawmakers investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol were set Thursday to lay out Donald Trump’s efforts to turn the Justice Department into his “own personal” law firm in his bid to overturn his presidential election defeat to Joe Biden.
At the fifth hearing into its year-long probe of the violence, the House of Representatives panel will highlight Trump’s attempts “to corrupt the country’s top law enforcement body, the Justice Department, to support his attempt to overturn the election,” chairman Bennie Thompson said.
Lawmakers will revisit tensions at the department the weekend before the January 6, 2021 insurrection, when Trump was faced with a revolt as he tried to install his own man at the top of the department.
“We’ll look specifically at how the president was trying to misuse the department to advance his own agenda to stay in power at the end of his term,” an aide to the committee said.
“And we’ll look at how that really is different from historical precedent and how the president was using the DOJ for his own personal means.”
The witnesses will be Jeffrey Rosen, an acting attorney general in the dying days of the Trump administration, his deputy Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, a former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.
Rosen took over the department after Bill Barr resigned, but soon found himself at the center of Trump’s efforts to undermine confidence in the integrity of the election.
Trump began supporting a little-known mid-level department official named Jeffrey Clark, who embraced the outgoing president’s debunked theories of a stolen election.
Clark pushed colleagues to issue letters to multiple states that Biden won, encouraging officials to consider overturning their election results.
- ‘New streams of evidence’ -
Trump considered installing Clark as attorney general over Rosen, and having Clark reverse the department’s conclusion that there was no evidence of fraud that could sway the election.
But Trump was forced to back off by a rebellion in the department’s senior ranks that the committee said it would relive as it takes the public “into the Oval Office” for the dramatic showdown.
In that January 4 meeting Rosen, Donoghue, Engel and White House counsel Pat Cipollone threatened to resign en masse, warning that they would take a raft of top federal prosecutors with them, if Trump went ahead with his plan.
The panel says it will also reveal how Trump sought to appoint an independent special counsel to pursue his fraud claims, which was resisted by the department.
“And we’ll also look at how the former president threatened to replace or fire leadership within the DOJ and how, again, a few senior Republican officials within the DOJ stood up to Trump’s pressure campaign,” the aide said.
The committee is reportedly planning a break from public hearings, meaning Thursday’s will be the last until hearings resume in July, after Congress’s Independence Day recess.
Thompson told reporters “significant new streams of evidence have necessitated a change to the panel’s hearing schedule, including the potential for additional hearings.”
The new evidence includes footage from documentary filmmaker Alex Holder, who had access to Trump and his family before and after January 6.
A new Politico/Morning Consult poll offered an insight into how much the hearings are resonating with the public, with 58 percent of respondents saying they’d heard about the June 13 and 16 sessions, and 38 percent saying they watched or listened to at least some of them.
But while 56 percent of Democratic voters have tuned in, just 25 percent of Republicans have watched.