Thursday’s hearing of the House committee investigating Jan. 6 might have been called Pressure Cooker — Part II.
The Tuesday hearing produced testimony from several elected Republican officials — and from Donald J. Trump himself on recorded calls — that the president tried to pressure them into not accepting the election results and a demand, or maybe a request, but begging for sure that they “find” some votes for him.
Having failed that, Trump then allegedly tried to get the Department of Justice to overturn the election results.
Thursday’s hearing was part tragedy, part comedy, with Trump having to share the stage, according to testimony, with a co-villain named Jeffrey Clark, a native Philadelphian and a graduate of Father Judge. He’s an environmental lawyer with the Department of Justice.
The testimony came closest to what has been called a coup — the replacement of an acting attorney general who would not do Trump’s illegal bidding — with an unqualified but compliant substitute, Clark.
Key witnesses were Jeffrey Rosen, appointed acting attorney general by Trump to replace Bill Barr, and Rosen’s acting deputy attorney general, Richard Donoghue, a 20-year veteran who had served with the 82nd Airborne.
Donoghue’s contempt for Clark was palpable and visceral, because he saw Clark as a jellyfish who sought to usurp Rosen’s job. We’ll call you when there’s an oil spill, he hissed at Clark.
The skinny is this: Trump viewed the U.S. Attorney General as his personal mouthpiece. Remember that he fired his first Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for refusing to interfere with the work of a special counsel.
Trump hired an acting A.G., Matthew Whitaker, followed by Bill Barr, and then Jeffrey Rosen — the 4th A.G. in four years.
When Clark maneuvered to become the 5th, that’s where the wheels fell off. (Clark refused to answer the committee’s questions, and the FBI searched his home on Wednesday.)
Trump was interested in Clark, because he was willing to send a letter to the Georgia legislature requesting them to overturn the election.
Rosen said there was no evidence to ask for that, it would be illegal anyway, and he refused to do it. Former White House Senior Adviser Eric Herschman said, “Jeff’s proposal was nuts.”
At a meeting with the president that resembled an episode of The Apprentice, Trump met with his top aides and top DOJ officials and asked what would happen if he appointed Clark to replace Rosen.
This put me in mind of Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre,” when U.S. Attorney General Elliot Richardson and deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus quit rather than fire special prosecutor Archibold Cox.
This was the moment you might call a coup, or a putsch in a soft glove. Yes, Trump could do it, but. . .
Trump got an assurance of a massive resignation within the DOJ.
“Jeff Clark will be left leading a graveyard,” said Steve Engel, assistant attorney general. He quoted White House counsel Pat Cipollone as calling it a “murder suicide.”
Trump backed down.
In his conversations with DOJ officials, and others, Trump insisted the law enforcement branch had “not done enough” to investigate charges of impropriety, some of which Trump pulled off the Internet.
Almost daily, DOJ got “an arsenal of allegations” from Trump, said Donoghue, a highlight being that Italian spy satellites were changing votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden.
Trump was told that was completely false, and other allegations had been investigated and found to be baseless.
Donoghue ran down a list of them with Trump, and refuted them, point by point. “No, that is not true,” he told Trump time and again during a 90-minute meeting.
It did not matter to Trump. I believe he believes he won because he has a history of being impervious to facts he does not like. He is self delusional.
Frustrated, he told DOJ, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen.”
And Italian satellites.