Jan. 6 committee holds fifth hearing

By Maureen Chowdhury, Elise Hammond, Adrienne Vogt and Meg Wagner, CNN

Updated 7:20 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022
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23 hr 35 min ago

Republican members of Congress sought pardons, according to emails and testimony

From CNN's Jeremy Herb

An image of former President Donald Trump phoning into a Fox News interview is shown on a screen during Thursday's U.S. House Select Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.
An image of former President Donald Trump phoning into a Fox News interview is shown on a screen during Thursday's U.S. House Select Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (Reuters/Demetrius Freeman/Pool)

Reps. Matt Gaetz of Florida, Mo Brooks of Alabama, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and other congressional Republicans sought pardons from then-President Donald Trump after the 2020 election, according to emails and testimony revealed by the Jan. 6 House select committee on Thursday.

The committee showed an email that Brooks sent to the White House on Jan. 11, 2021, with the subject line of “pardons.” 

“President Trump asked me to send you this letter. This letter is also pursuant to a request from Matt Gaetz,” the email said. “As such, I recommend that president give general (all purpose) pardons to the following groups of people,” which included one group of “every congressman and senator who voted to reject the electoral college vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania.”  

Former Trump White House lawyer Eric Herschmann said that Gaetz requested a pardon. “The general tone was, we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of, you know, the president’s positions on these things,” Herschmann said.  

“The pardon that he was discussing, requesting, was as broad as you could describe,” Herschmann said.

John McEntee, another Trump aide, told the committee in a deposition interview played at Thursday’s hearing that Gaetz had told him he’d asked for a pardon. “He told me he’d asked Meadows for a pardon,” McEntee said.

McEntee added that he also heard discussions about a blanket pardon. “I had heard that mentioned,” he said.  

Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies in a pre-recorded video shown during the hearing on Thursday.
Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to the former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, testifies in a pre-recorded video shown during the hearing on Thursday. (House Recording Studio)

Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, said at a Dec. 21, 2020, White House meeting there were congressional Republicans who were “advocates” for pardons.

“I guess Mr. Gaetz and Mr. Brooks I know had both advocated there be a blanket pardon for members involved in that meeting and a handful of other members that weren’t at the Dec. 21 meeting as the preemptive pardons,” Hutchinson said. “Mr. Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon.” 

Hutchinson also testified that Perry, who played a key role connecting DOJ official Jeffrey Clark to Trump, had sought a pardon, as well as Reps. Andy Biggs of Arizona and Louie Gohmert of Texas.

Asked by committee investigators if Perry asked for a pardon to Hutchinson directly, she said, “Yes, he did.”  

Hutchinson also testified that she had heard Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene had “asked for a pardon from (deputy White House counsel Patrick) Philbin,” but that she said she didn’t hear it directly.

Rep. Jim Jordan, Hutchinson said, had not asked for a pardon but “more for an update on whether the White House was going to pardon members of Congress.” 

“Mr. Gohmert asked for one as well,” Hutchinson said.

23 hr 55 min ago

Donoghue says he told Trump the country and the DOJ had a "great deal" to lose if Clark was appointed

Jeffrey A. Rosen, former acting Attorney General, listens as Richard Donoghue, former Acting Deputy Attorney General, testifies before the House select committee hearing on June 23.
Jeffrey A. Rosen, former acting Attorney General, listens as Richard Donoghue, former Acting Deputy Attorney General, testifies before the House select committee hearing on June 23. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue said he didn't mince words with former President Trump during a meeting in which replacing acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen with Jeffrey Clark was discussed.

Clark is a former DOJ lawyer who pushed Trump’s fraud claims inside the Justice Department.

"Early on, the President said, 'what do I have to lose?' And it was actually a good opening, because I said 'Mr. President, you have a great deal to lose,'" Donoghue said at the Jan. 6 House select committee hearing.  

"I began to explain to him what he had to lose, and what the country had to lose, and what the department had to lose. This was not in anyone's best interest. That conversation went on for some time. ... At some point, the conversation turned to whether Jeff Clark was even qualified, competent to run the Justice Department, which in my mind he clearly was not," he said.  

Donoghue called it a "heated conversation."

"I thought it was useful to point out to the President that Jeff Clark simply didn't have the skills, the ability, and the experience to run the department. And so I said, 'Mr. President, you're talking about putting a man in that seat who has never tried a criminal case, who has never conducted a criminal investigation.' And he's telling you that he's going to take charge of the department, 115,000 employees, including the entire FBI, and turn the place on a dime and conduct nationwide criminal investigations that will produce results in a matter of days. It's impossible. It's absurd. It's not going to happen, and it's going to fail," he continued.

Donoghue said that Clark would not even be recognized by FBI Director Chris Wray if he went into his office.

"Do you think that the FBI is going to start suddenly following his orders? It's not going to happen. He's not competent," he said.

Clark defended himself by saying he was involved in civil and environmental litigation.

"And I pointed out yes, he was an environmental lawyer and I didn't think that was an appropriate background to be running the United States Justice Department," Donoghue said.

No one else in the room supported Clark, he said.

5:17 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Donoghue: Assistant attorney generals agreed to resign "en masse" if Jeff Clark was made DOJ head

Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general, said that he set up a meeting with assistant attorney generals at the Department of Justice, where he asked them what they would do if Jeffrey Clark was made head of the department by former President Donald Trump.

Donoghue said that, essentially, those who participated in the meeting "said they would resign en masse if the President made that change to the department leadership."

He added, "All, without hesitation, said they would resign."

During his testimony, Donoghue also noted several times how he felt Clark was unqualified to lead the department.

Some background: Clark is the former DOJ lawyer who former President Donald Trump sought to install as attorney general in the days before the January 6 Capitol riot. He was at the center of an effort by Trump to get the Justice Department to falsely claim there was enough voter fraud in Georgia and other states that he lost, in a last-minute bid to help sow doubt about Joe Biden's victory and pave the way for him to remain in power.

5:30 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Rosen says he told Trump he would not allow the DOJ to do anything to overturn the election

Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testifies during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee on Thursday, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.
Former Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen testifies during the fifth public hearing of the U.S. House Select Committee on Thursday, on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. (Reuters/Jim Bourg)

Jeffrey A. Rosen, the former acting attorney general, said he told then-President Donald Trump at a pivotal meeting in the Oval Office on Jan. 3, 2021, that he would not allow the Justice Department to do anything to give validity to false claims of election fraud, saying its "a good thing for the country."

When he entered the meeting, Trump said "you don't even agree with the claims of election fraud, and this other guy at least might do something," Rosen testified, referring to Trump considering installing Jeffrey Clark, the department's former top energy lawyer who had pushed Trump's fraud claims.

Rosen told the committee he replied, "Mr. President, you're right that I'm not going to allow the Justice Department to do anything to try to overturn the election. That's true. But the reason for that is that's what's consistent with the facts and the law. That's what's required under the Constitution."

"So that's the right answer and a good thing for the country, and therefore, I submit it's the right thing for you, Mr. President," Rosen added.

He said Trump and other Justice Department and White House officials in the room were bringing up points in support of Rosen and critical of Clark.

5:25 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Trump's defense head called attache in Rome to investigate baseless election claim about Italian satellites

From CNN's Zachary Cohen

A video of retired CIA chief of station Bradley Johnson is shown on screen during the fifth hearing held by the House select committee on June 23.
A video of retired CIA chief of station Bradley Johnson is shown on screen during the fifth hearing held by the House select committee on June 23. (Demetrius Freeman/Pool/Getty Images)

At the request of former chief of staff Mark Meadows, then-Defense Secretary Christopher Miller reached out to the defense attaché in Italy to investigate a baseless claim that an Italian satellite had switched votes from Donald Trump to Joe Biden, according to testimony at Thursday’s House Jan. 6 committee hearing.

The conspiracy theory, which CNN has previously reported was among those pushed Meadows pushed top national security officials to investigate, was characterized as “pure insanity” by former DOJ official Richard Donoghue, who was also asked to look into the claim.

After the DOJ refused to meet with the man who was pushing the baseless claim online, Meadows went to Department of Defense and asked Miller to follow-up on it.

“The ask for him was, can you call out to defense attaché Rome and find out what the heck’s going on? Because I’m getting all these weird crazy reports and probably the guy on the ground knows more than anything,” Miller told the committee during his closed-door interview, according to video of his deposition played Thursday. 

Rep. Adam Kinzinger said Thursday that the committee confirmed a call was actually placed by Miller to the attaché in Italy to investigate the claim about Italian satellites. 

5:08 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Trump asked DOJ to seize voting machines from states, witnesses testify

Jeffrey Rosen, former acting US attorney general, speaks during a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Thursday.
Jeffrey Rosen, former acting US attorney general, speaks during a hearing of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the US Capitol in Washington, D.C. on Thursday. (Samuel Corum/Bloomberg/Getty Images)

Former President Trump asked then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen to seize voting machines from state governments in late December 2020, according to testimony from former DOJ official Richard Donoghue during Thursday’s hearing — a request Rosen testified the Justice Department had no legal authority to do.

"We had seen nothing improper with regard to the voting machines, and I told him that the real experts at that had been at DHS and had briefed us that they had looked at it and that there was nothing wrong with the voting machines. And so that was not something that was appropriate to do," Rosen testified.

"I don't think there was legal authority either," Rosen added, responding to question from Rep. Adam Kinzinger that there was no "factual basis" to seize the machines.

Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general, said that Trump was "very agitated" when he was told the Justice Department would not take action of the voting machines.

At that point, according to Donoghue, Trump called Ken Cuccinelli at the Department of Homeland Security and told him that Rosen was saying it was DHS’s job to seize the machines, even though he was not saying that. 

“Get Ken Cuccinelli on the phone,” Trump yelled to his secretary after DOJ officials told him that DHS had expertise in voting machines and determined there was nothing to warrant seizing them, according to former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen, who testified Thursday. 

Rosen confirmed Thursday he never told Trump that DHS could seize voting machines. CNN has previously reported that Trump pushed DOJ and DHS to seize voting machines. 

CNN has also previously reported that Trump allies drafted executive orders that would have had the military and DHS seize voting machines had they been signed by Trump – but they ultimately were not. 

CNN's Zachary Cohen contributed to this report.

23 hr 47 min ago

There was no basis for special counsel to probe 2020 fraud, DOJ official says

From CNN's Marshall Cohen

There was no legal basis to appoint a Justice Department special counsel to investigate voter fraud in 2020, even though President Donald Trump demanded it, a top department official testifiThursday.

Steven Engel, who was the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the executive branch, described the saga in testimony to the Jan. 6 select committee.

“It was not legally available,” Engel said.

CNN and other news outlets reported in December 2020 that Trump had floated the idea of naming Sidney Powell as a special counsel, but that was met with significant pushback from senior White House officials. Powell is a well-known conspiracy theorist who represented former Trump adviser Michael Flynn during his criminal trial, and has promoted fantastical and false theories of massive voter fraud.

The committee played a deposition clip of Powell describing Trump’s desire to appoint her to the post.

"He asked me to be special counsel to address the election issues and to collect evidence and he was extremely frustrated with the lack of, I would call it law enforcement, by any of the government agencies that are supposed to act to protect the rule of law in our republic," she said in the video.

Then-Attorney General Bill Barr refused to appoint a special counsel, and after Barr resigned in December 2020, Trump continued pressing top Justice Department officials to name a special counsel, including Barr’s successor, Jeffrey Rosen, who also refused.

“Neither Barr nor Rosen believed (a special counsel) was appropriate or necessary in this case,” Engel said.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, who has been leading much of the questioning on Thursday, condemned Trump for even considering a special counsel.

“An investigation led by a special counsel would just create an illusion of legitimacy and fake cover for those who want to object” to the 2020 election, “including those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said.

4:47 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Donoghue says he told Clark pushing election fraud claims was "nothing less" than the DOJ meddling in election

From CNN's Katelyn Polantz

Richard Donoghue, former acting Deputy Attorney General, testifies before the House select committee on June 23.
Richard Donoghue, former acting Deputy Attorney General, testifies before the House select committee on June 23. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue recounted having multiple confrontations with DOJ official Jeffrey Clark, telling him that what he was proposing, in pushing election fraud claims, was “nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election.” 

“It was a very contentious meeting,” Donoghue recalled during his sworn testimony on Thursday. “Yes, that was said amongst other things.”  

Donoghue later confronted Clark again, and the top tier of DOJ officials continued to try to put an end to Clark’s insistence that the department be used to investigate nonexistent voter fraud. Another confrontation was on January 2, 2021, Donoghue said. 

“He was defensive," Donoghue said. "Similar to his earlier reaction when I said this was nothing less than the Justice Department meddling in an election, his reaction was, ‘I think a lot of people meddled in this election.’ So he kind of clung to that.” 

 

4:32 p.m. ET, June 23, 2022

Cheney highlights role of lawyer Ken Klukowski in assisting Jeffrey Clark and John Eastman

From CNN's Holmes Lybrand

According to the House select committee, a lawyer named Ken Klukowski joined the Justice Department in mid-December 2020 and helped draft a letter urging Georgia state officials to take actions that would undermine the results of the election in the state as well as pressure Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the election. 

Klukowski joined the Department of Justice “on Dec. 15 with only 36 days left until inauguration,” Vice Chair Liz Cheney said Thursday. “He was specifically assigned to work under Jeffrey Clark.” 

According to Cheney, Klukowski helped draft a letter to Georgia state officials with Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, repeating false claims of election fraud and asking the officials to convene a special session and consider approving a new slate of electors for the state. 

Klukowski also worked with conservative lawyer John Eastman, who helmed the false theory that Pence could overturn the 2020 election results and was recommended in a December 2020 email to meet with Pence and his staff, Cheney said.

“This email suggests that Mr. Klukowski was simultaneously working with Jeffrey Clark to draft the proposed letter to Georgia officials to overturn their certified election,” Cheney said, “and working with Dr. Eastman to help pressure the vice president to overturn the election.”