WASHINGTON — A White House lawyer told Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who wanted to push forward with a plan by President Donald Trump to subvert the 2020 election results based on unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, that he would be committing a felony if he did so, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol revealed Thursday.
As the committee opened its fifth hearing revealing the findings of its investigation, lawmakers played video of Eric Herschmann, a lawyer in the White House Counsel’s Office recounting how, after hearing Clark’s proposal, he used a pair of expletives and said: “Congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you’d take as attorney general would be committing a felony.”
The disclosure came as the panel began laying out evidence of how Trump tried to manipulate the Justice Department to help him cling to power after he lost the 2020 election. To help make the case, the committee is taking testimony from three former top Justice Department officials who, unlike Clark, pushed back strongly on Trump’s efforts to misuse the attorney general’s office to overturn his defeat, an extraordinary instance of a president interfering with the nation’s law enforcement apparatus for his personal ends.
“He wanted the Justice Department to legitimize his lies,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the committee, said of Trump, who at one point proposed placing Clark at the helm when other officials refused to bow to his demands.
The witnesses testifying are Jeffrey Rosen, a former acting attorney general; Richard Donoghue, a former acting deputy attorney general; and Steven Engel, a former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel.
Among the other revelations by the panel Thursday:
— The committee played new testimony from former Attorney General William Barr in which he suggested in a videotaped deposition that he was aware that Trump wanted to use false claims of voter fraud as a pretense for refusing to leave office. Had he not moved quickly to investigate and debunk Trump’s voting fraud allegations, Barr said, “I’m not sure we would have had a transition at all.”
— The committee displayed on a large screen Donoghue’s handwritten note of Trump’s instructions to the Justice Department: “Just say that the election was corrupt + leave the rest to me and the R. Congressmen.”
— Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a member of the committee, is playing a central role in the questioning of witnesses and presentation of evidence. He has hinted that the hearing could reveal more information about members of Congress who sought pardons after Jan. 6.
The panel is planning at least two more hearings for July, according to Thompson. Those sessions are expected to detail how a mob of violent extremists attacked Congress and how Trump did nothing to call off the violence for more than three hours.