The fifth day of public hearings by the House select committee on Jan. 6 may not have been the flashiest. There was little footage of the actual violence on the day of the assault, the threats directed at election workers, and none of the surprise videos from members of Trump’s own family admitting that they knew his claims of a stolen election were a lie. And still, somehow, this was both the most disturbing and the most damning day of testimony so far.
The core of the day focused on Donald Trump’s attempts to turn the Justice Department into an instrument he could use to reinforce the conspiracy to overturn the election results. That included an expanded look into the scheme created by attorney John Eastman to create a faux constitutional crisis on Jan. 6 by employing slates of false electors. However, the testimony also spun out the plot within the Department of Justice itself, where Trump worked with environmental lawyer Jeffery Clark on a plan to replace acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen with Clark so that Clark could use the department to back false claims of election fraud. The pure quid pro quo nature of the deal between Trump and Clark has been in evidence for some time, but hearing the people involved in holding back the scheme still seemed revelatory.
More than anything else, day five seemed to be about showing the mechanisms by which Trump sought to manipulate the Department of Justice and subvert the election—and about the men who lined up to help. From Rep. Scott Perry’s part in pressing for the internal Department of Justice coup to the role played by right-wing author Ken Klukowski, who was brought into the department expressly to support Clark, the hearing laid bare both the depravity and the desperation behind Trump’s attempt to co-opt the Department of Justice.
And, for anyone who still doubted, it made clear that the committee has all the receipts on congressional Republicans who went begging for a pardon.
The most extraordinary thing about the most damning testimony on Thursday may have been just who delivered it. Rosen and Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue were hand-picked by Trump to fill those roles after it became clear that previous Attorney General William Barr wasn’t going to back Trump’s claims of election fraud. Only Trump was frustrated to find that neither Rosen nor Donoghue were at all anxious to jump into a seditious conspiracy.
The pair told Trump that they had also investigated the claims put to the Justice Department—including ludicrous suggestions like the one involving votes being changed by an Italian satellite—and found nothing at all suggesting any significant election fraud. Even so, Trump pressed them to write a letter saying that the Department of Justice had found fraud. When that was refused, Trump instructed them to write a letter saying that they were investigating significant fraud, saying that he and Republicans in Congress would take it from there. “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Trump instructed them.
When Rosen still refused to sign on, Perry presented Trump with someone guaranteed to be willing to sell out his country for the right price: Jeffrey Clark. In exchange for being jumped ahead several levels to become the new attorney general, Clark would sign the letter Trump wanted. Klukowski, the author of a book insisting that Barack Obama would “subvert the Constitution” if reelected in 2012, was inserted into the department on Dec. 15 specifically to provide backup to Clark.
Klukowski went on in anticipation of Clark’s ascension, drafting a letter that urged state officials in Georgia to take steps to overturn the election results. That letter contained false claims that the Department of Justice was investigating significant election fraud in that state and—in case officials didn’t know what to do next—instructed them on how to call a special session so they could approve a slate of all new, all Trump electors.
Klukowski also severed as a connection to the drafter of the overall “January 6 scenario,” Eastman. Emails showed that Klukowski provided a link between Clark’s plan to solicit false electors and Eastman’s plans for Jan. 6, which leaned on those false electors as justification for throwing out the vote in seven states.
What halted the Clark-Klukowski aspect of the overall plan was a revolt inside the Justice Department, one that bonded longtime staff and the just-appointed Rosen as they pushed back against Trump’s scheme to shred every remaining ounce of integrity and respect within the department. In the process, Donoghue got to deliver the most stinging rebuke.
"You're an environmental lawyer,” Donoghue said to the completely unqualified Clark in a White House meeting where Trump was trying to hand him the entire Department of Justice. “How about you go back to your office, and we'll call you when there's an oil spill.”
Overall, the hearing spent some time introducing the players, but made it extremely clear that the select committee has all the receipts. All the players. All the pages of the playbook. They know all the steps that were underway to make Eastman’s scheme a reality. How Trump tried to use the Department of Justice to spread false claims. How Republican congressmen lined up to help. How Republican state party members lined up to sign fake certificates claiming to be “duly elected” to give the votes of their state to Trump. And how Republicans came begging for a pardon after the Jan. 6 coup failed.
They have all the evidence needed to reveal a seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States and install Donald Trump as unelected ruler.
In that conspiracy, the violence on Jan. 6 wasn’t the end goal; it was a tool. As seen in previous hearings, that violence was carefully solicited and crafted to create pressure on then-Vice President Mike Pence and wavering Republicans in Congress. It was also designed to create an impression of chaos that Trump could use to justify going beyond the law.
But all of that was window dressing. The real scheme, the heart of the conspiracy, was happening right in the Oval Office, where Trump was directing officials to lie and cheat so that he could remain in power. Lawyers may not seem as colorful as guys wearing face paint and horns, but for democracy, they are far more dangerous.
More than any previous hearing, Thursday laid out all the pieces of Trump’s efforts to end American democracy. It showed that what Eastman put on paper wasn’t just a theory. Trump tried—tried repeatedly—to make it reality. And, like the past hearing that focused on how Trump attempted to bully state and local election officials, this hearing showed just how frighteningly close Trump came to succeeding.
Rosen could just as easily have agreed to write the letters Trump wanted. And if he had …
Republished with permission from Daily Kos.