A string of Republican members of Congress – including Matt Gaetz, Mo Brooks, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert and Scott Perry – asked the White House for pre-emptive pardons after the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to testimony at a congressional hearing on Thursday.
Their names emerged at the end of a fifth day of public hearings held by the House committee investigating the violence.
It focused on how then President Donald Trump tried to pressure top Justice Department officials into helping him hold on to power.
But it also heard how Trump allies may have realized their efforts to overturn the election were illegal.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Republican select committee member who led the hearing, said: ‘All I know is if you’re innocent, you’re probably not gonna go out and seek a pardon’
Eric Herschman, former senior White House adviser, said Gaetz requested a particularly broad pardon.
‘The pardon that he was discussing, requesting was as broad as you could describe … from the beginning of time up until today, for any and all things,’ he said in his videotaped testimony.
Brooks pressed for a broad range of pardons according to a January 11 email, including for lawmakers who refused to certify the result.
‘As such, I recommend that President give general (all purpose) pardons to the following groups of people,’ he wrote, according to text shown by the committee.
‘Every Congressman or Senator who voted to reject the electoral college vote submissions of Arizona and Pennsylvania.’
That would have covered some 147 Republicans.
Trump loyalists asked for pardons after the January 6 attacks. Rep. Matt Gaetz (left) asked for one ‘from the beginning of time up until today, for any and all things’ according to testimony on Thursday, and Rep Mo Brooks pressed for one that would have covered 147 lawmakers
Cassidy Hutchinson, an aide to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, said efforts also included protecting lawmakers who took part in a White House meeting with Trump.
‘Mr. Gaetz and Mr Brooks both advocated for there to be a blanket pardon for members involved in that meeting and a handful of other members that were at the December 21 meeting,’ she said in her recorded testimony.
About a dozen lawmakers reportedly took part in a trio of meetings.
‘It was a back-and-forth concerning the planning and strategy for January the 6th,” Brooks said in a phone interview with Politico at the time.
Hutchinson also told the committee that Republican Representative Jim Jordan asked about pardons but did not request one for himself.
Brooks defended his actions in a statement.
“The email request says it all. There was a concern Democrats would abuse the judicial system by prosecuting and jailing Republicans who acted pursuant to their Constitutional or statutory duties,’ he said.
But in the end, he added, pardons were not necessary.
Earlier, three Department of Justice officials appeared before the House committee .
They presented evidence of how Trump tried to use the department to pressure key wing states into reversing Joe Biden’s victory.
At its heart was a plan to install Jeffrey Clark, an environmental lawyer and Trump loyalist, as the head of the department.
The matter was discussed during a tense January 3 meeting in the Oval Office, when the president asked what he had to lose.
‘Early on, the president said: “What do I have to lose?”‘ according to Richard Donoghue, former acting deputy attorney general.
‘And it was actually a good opening because I said, Mr. President, you have a great deal to lose.’
‘And 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. And this was not in anyone’s best interest.’
He was one of three Trump-era Justice Department officials who described a relentless pressure campaign by the president, who directed them to investigate unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud.
They said it was a deep breach of protocol for the president to deliver orders to a department that prides itself on its independence.
Instead, Trump wanted his own man at the head of the department.
Donoghue said Clark was simply ‘incompetent.’
‘And it was a heated conversation,’ he said. 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’s never conducted a criminal investigation.
‘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 and 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.’
Former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue testified before the January 6 committee on Thursday, as it focused on the role of the Department of Justice
Discussion on Thursday focused on the role of the Justice Department, including a letter drafted by Jeffrey Clark telling lawmakers in Georgia that the department had concerns about voter fraud in the state, as part of an effort to pick an alternate slate of pro-Trump electors
Five top takeaways from the House January 6 committee’s fifth public hearing – from a ‘murder-suicide’ letter to Republican pardons
The fifth day of congressional hearings on the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol by Donald Trump’s supporters heard how the then-president pressured the Justice Department to help him hold onto power after he lost the 2020 election.
The House of Representatives select committee investigating the attack received testimony from three former top department officials – then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, his deputy Richard Donoghue, and the then-head of the Office of Legal Counsel, Steven Engel.
Here are takeaways from Thursday’s hearing:
Trump tried to fire his acting attorney general
Trump was frustrated by what he saw as the Justice Department’s inaction investigating or validating his false claims of election fraud.
Between Dec. 23, 2020, and Jan. 3, 2021, Trump called or met Rosen almost every day as his efforts to hold onto power became more urgent. He wanted Rosen to pursue various avenues, including appointing a special counsel to investigate suspected election fraud.
When Rosen told Trump in a Dec. 27 meeting that the Justice Department could not just snap its fingers and change the outcome of the election, Trump quickly responded, ‘What I’m just asking you to do is just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,’ Donoghue recalled.
A Trump-supporting Justice Department environmental lawyer, Jeffrey Clark, was a key player in Trump’s efforts to use the department to aid his efforts to overturn his election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
Clark met with Trump in the Oval Office several times without the knowledge of White House counsel Pat Cipollone or Justice Department leadership, bypassing the normal chain of command and angering Rosen.
On Jan. 3, 2021, Clark told Rosen that Trump had offered him the position of attorney general and that he was going to accept. Rosen sought an urgent meeting with Trump at the White House, along with Donoghue and Engel, to talk him out of it.
Donoghue testified he told Trump that the entire department leadership would resign within hours if he fired Rosen. Trump turned to Engel and asked him if he would quit too, to which Engel replied that he would and that Clark ‘would be left leading a graveyard.’
The last comment appeared to help sway Trump to back down from his plan, Donoghue said.
New Year’s Eve Meeting
Rosen and Donoghue attended a meeting with the president at the White House on New Year’s Eve where Trump asked why the Justice Department had not seized voting machines that Trump supporters alleged had been manipulated to steal the election.
Rosen said his department had no legal authority to take that step, a response that did not sit well with Trump, Donoghue recalled.
Rosen told Trump that the Department of Homeland Security had investigated the issue and found nothing wrong with the voting machines.
At the meeting’s end, Trump said, ‘People tell me I should just get rid of both of you.’
Donoghue said he told Trump: ‘Mr. President, you should have the leadership that you want. But understand the United States Justice Department functions on facts, evidence and law. And those are not going to change.’
The ‘Murder-Suicide’ letter
Clark drafted a letter to be sent to state legislatures in some Republican-controlled states, including Georgia, that aimed to sow doubts about Biden’s election win.
The letter alleged that the Justice Department had concerns about election results in multiple states. By the time it was written the department had already determined that no widespread fraud had occurred.
‘Donald Trump offered Mr. Clark the job of acting attorney general, replacing Mr. Rosen, with the understanding that Mr. Clark would send this letter and take other actions the president requested,’ said Representative Liz Cheney, the committee’s Republican vice chair.
The letter was never sent after Rosen and Donoghue refused to sign it. Cipollone, the White House counsel, said the letter was so toxic that it should never be seen again because if it was ever made public it would be a ‘murder-suicide.’
Trump pressed Justice Department officials to investigate a baseless internet-based conspiracy theory that an Italian defense contractor had uploaded software to a satellite that switched votes from Trump to Biden.
Rosen said the conspiracy theory promoted by a former U.S. intelligence officer had been debunked.
Republican congressman Scott Perry texted Trump’s chief of staff Mark Meadows to ask him, ‘Why can’t we just work with the Italian government?’
Then-Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller placed a call to the U.S. military attache at the embassy in Italy to seek an investigation, the committee said, citing it as an example of how Trump used the machinery of government to pursue his own personal ends.
At least five congressional Republican allies of Trump’s sought White House pardons after supporting his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat, witnesses told the committee.
In video testimony, White House aides said Representatives Andy Biggs, Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Louie Gohmert and Scott Perry sought pardons that could have inoculated them against prosecution.
U.S. Representative Adam Kinzinger, a Republican on the Democrat-led committee who has withstood a torrent of criticism from his party brethren, offered a scathing quip, telling the committee: “The only reason I know to ask for a pardon is because you think you’ve committed a crime.”
In a statement, Brooks said he had sought a pardon because of ‘a concern Democrats would abuse the judicial system by prosecuting and jailing Republicans.’
In a further twist, it emerged earlier in the day that Clark’s suburban Virginia home had been raided by federal investigators on Wednesday.
The panel’s hearing was the fifth this month by the House committee investigating the run-up to the insurrection at the Capitol, when Trump loyalists stormed the building as lawmakers were certifying the results of the election won by Biden.
Witnesses have included police officers attacked at the Capitol as well as lawyers, a television executive and local election officials who all resisted demands to alter results in Trump’s favor.
The committee last week presented videotaped depositions of former Attorney General William Barr, who castigated Trump’s fraud claims and resigned after failing to convince the president.
Thursday’s hearing focused on what happened after he was replaced by Jeffrey Rosen.
It featured an audio clip of Donoghue describing how Trump’s White House counsel warned officials during the tense January 3 meeting against a plan for the Department of Justice to tell states it had concerns about election fraud, describing a draft letter as a ‘murder-suicide pact.’
‘And Pat Cipollone weighed in at one point I remember saying, you know, that letter that this guy wants to send that letter is a murder suicide pact,’ he said.
‘It’s going to damage everyone who touches it and we should have nothing to do with that letter. I don’t ever want to see that letter again.’
Previous hearings have focused on how Trump was told again and again that he had lost the election.
Thursday’s highlighted the turmoil at the Justice Department and how Trump mulled promoting Clark in order to further his own claims of fraud.
It also included video testimony from former Attorney General Bill Barr, defending his decision to launch fraud investigations even though there was little evidence of wrongdoing.
‘Why not just follow the regular course of action and let the investigations occur much later in time after January 6,’ said Rep. Liz Cheney as she introduced his response.
‘I felt the responsible thing to do was to be to be in a position to have a view as to whether or not there was fraud.
‘And frankly, I think the fact that I put myself in the position that I could say that we had looked at this and didn’t think there was fraud was really important to moving things forward.
In testimony played during the hearing, former Attorney General Bill Barr said he didn’t think there would have been a transition if he had not launched investigations into election fraud, giving him the ammunition to push back on Trump’s claims
‘And I sort of shudder to think what the situation would have been if the position of the department was, “We’re not even looking at this until after Biden’s in office.
‘I’m not sure we would have had a transition at all.’
The hearing began after news emerged that federal agents raided the home of Clark a day earlier.
They arrived at his suburban Virginia home in the early morning, according to several reports.
An ally, Russ Vought, who headed the Office of Management and Budget in the Trump White House, said Clark had to stand in the street in his pyjamas.
‘The new era of criminalizing politics is worsening in the US,’ tweeted Vought.
‘Yesterday more than a dozen DOJ law enforcement officials searched Jeff Clark’s house in a pre-dawn raid, put him in the streets in his PJs, and took his electronic devices.’
Attorneys for Clark did not respond to requests for comment.
Federal agents reportedly searched the home of Jeffrey Clark, a former Department of Justice lawyer who former President Donald Trump considered installing as attorney general in the days before the January 6 Capitol riot as part of an effort to overturn the election
Thursday’s hearing was the fifth public hearing held this month as the committee lays out the findings of its investigation so far into the violence of January 6, 2021
The Justice Department appears to be escalating its probe of pro-Trump efforts to overturn the 2020 election, which culminated in the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection.
Thursday’s hearing included discussion of a plan to install Clark as acting attorney general, so that the Department of Justice was headed by a Trump loyalist who would pursue fraud claims.
US Rep. Scott Perry was among those who pushed for Clark during meetings at the White House, according to the testimony of an aide.
‘He wanted Mr. Clark – Mr. Jeff Clark to take over the Department of Justice,’ said Cassidy Hutchinson, a former aide to White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, in recorded testimony.
The committee also played video of Trump’s attorney Rudy Guiliani discussing the qualities they wanted in someone to head the Justice Department.
‘Beyond the president, I do recall saying to people that somebody should be put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation. Because Justice was filled with people like that.’ he said.