US lawmakers probing the Capitol attacks of January 2021 on Thursday focused on how former President Donald Trump, in his final weeks in the Oval Office, tried to install a loyalist atop the Justice Department in an illegal attempt to stay in power.
At this month's fifth pubic hearing, the House of Representatives panel investigating the causes of the insurrection at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 described Trump's pressure on officials to augment his false claims that his presidency had been stolen by widespread voter fraud.
"Donald Trump didn't just want the Justice Department to investigate. He wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies, to baselessly call the election corrupt," committee chairman Bennie Thompson said.
Trump sought to replace Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department environmental lawyer and strong supporter of the ex-president's debunked voter fraud theories.
"It was a brazen attempt to use the Justice Department to advance the president's personal political agenda," Thompson said.
The committee heard from three Trump-era Justice Department officials, including Rosen, who recounted persistent pressure from the president.
They recollected getting directives to chase down baseless allegations that the election won by Democrat Joe Biden had been stolen.
The officials said they ignored each demand from Trump because there was no evidence of widespread fraud, then came together when the president mulled whether to replace the department's top lawyer with a little-known, mid-level official willing to help undo the election's results.
Highlighting the magnitude of Trump's pressure on the department, Rosen said that in late December 2020 and early January 2021, the former president contacted him almost daily.
"At one point, he had raised the question of having a special counsel for election fraud.... he raised whether the Justice Department would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court," Rosen said.
"At a couple of junctures, there were questions about making public statements or about holding a press conference," he added.
Meanwhile, nearly an hour before the hearing began on Thursday, it was revealed that federal agents had searched Clark's Virginia home the previous day. It was, however, not immediately apparent what agents were seeking.
Trump allies sought preemptive pardons
On Thursday, witnesses also told the House committee that at least five congressional Republican allies of Donald Trump sought White House pardons after backing his attempts to overturn his 2020 election blow.
The panel screened video testimony from Trump White House aides that showed that Republican Representatives Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert and Scott Perry sought pardons from Trump that could have protected them against prosecution for any activities they may have been involved in before or during the January 6 riots.
Brooks said in a statement that he was seeking the pardon because of "a concern Democrats would abuse the judicial system by prosecuting and jailing Republicans."
Meanwhile, Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the Democrat-led committee, remarked: "The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you've committed a crime."
dvv/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)