The five public hearings held by the commission investigating the attack on Capitol Hill and broadcast on television have seen a parade of brave men and women who resisted the pressure and threats of Donald Trump and his allies in the months between the elections November and January 6, 2021. They have also pointed the finger of infamy at others who bowed to their illegitimate aspirations to stay in power.
This Thursday was, on the side of the virtuous, the turn of the members of the Department of Justice who, unbeknownst to us then, avoided during an emergency meeting held in the Oval Office on Sunday, January 3, three days before a mob encouraged by Trump attacked the Capitol, that the still president fired the interim attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen. The reason? His refusal to publicly join the false theory that Joe Biden’s victory was not clean.
On the other side was in absentia, a Trump stooge, Jeffrey Clark, a Department member specializing in environmental law whose greatest virtue was, according to recorded testimony from former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, that he “didn’t care what happened to his reputation” by embarking in that crusade under the orders of the defeated president. Despite his complete lack of experience in procedural practice, Trump wanted to place Clark at the head of the Justice Department, only because he was willing to blindly support the electoral theft theory and put the attorney general’s office at the service of the tycoon’s plan to revoke the Joe Biden win.
In the building of evidence that the commission is building before public opinion, today it has been demonstrated that Trump was willing to use the American judicial arm for his own benefit, in a flagrant violation of the separation of powers that is at the base of any democracy. “He wanted the Justice Department to legitimize his lies,” commission chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, settled during his opening speech.
Shortly before the session began, it was learned that the FBI searched Clark’s house on Wednesday, in what could be an indication that the conclusions that the commission is airing, which lack legal consequences, could be penetrating the attorney general. Merrick Garland, on whom pressure is growing to take matters into his own hands and take criminal action. It is not the first time this week that it seems that both organs were more aligned than it seemed. The revelations made on Tuesday in Congress about an alleged electoral fraud hatched after the November elections has led to the prosecution of several of those involved.
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Rosen, who appeared as a witness this Thursday, had been appointed three weeks before they wanted him defenestrated to replace Attorney General William Barr, one of the key pieces in the puzzle that the commission is putting together. Barr was the one who told Trump, in a phrase that has already gone down in history, that the fraud theory was “nonsense.” In a video shown during the fifth hearing, he was also seen to assure that without his resistance and his speed in dismantling the electoral conspiracies, a transfer of power probably would not have taken place. The president wanted Rosen to sign a letter to be sent to Georgia state election officials in which the Justice Department supported fraud. When he refused to do so, Clark himself told his boss that Trump had asked him to replace him in his role.
During a hearing that had a star listener, actor Sean Penn, invited by police officer Michael Fanone, who was seriously injured on January 6, Rosen said that, among other things, he was not going to allow himself to be fired by a subordinate. So he demanded a meeting with the president. It was held that same afternoon at the White House and several prominent members of the Justice Department came to defend the attorney general.
The other two witnesses summoned at the commission’s fifth hearing were present at that meeting in the Oval Office: Assistant Attorney General Richard Donoghue, a veteran member of the Department and the United States Army, who was surprised by the summons dressed “in dirty shirt and boots”, and Steven Engel, another senior Justice official. After a tense exchange with the president and armed with the knowledge that five top officials were willing to resign immediately if things went ahead, they managed to get Trump to change his mind and drop his plans to replace Rosen with Clark.
Although they were unsuccessful in getting him to stop spreading the disrepute of the Department of Justice among his followers. As could be seen in another of the videos shown in the solemn hall of Congress where the sessions are being held, dozens of Trump supporters showed up during the January 6 insurrection at the doors of the Department building, near the Capitol, and yelled, “Do your job!” in reference to his alleged ability to challenge Biden’s victory.
The three witnesses have been painting the picture of pressure and wild conspiracy theories of those months helped by Congressman Adam Kinzinger, representative of the State of Illinois and one of the two Republican members of the commission (completing seven Democrats). In a restrained but forceful performance, Kinzinger, who has earned the hatred of broad sectors of his party for contributing to this investigation (so much so, that he announced at the end of last year that he would not appear again in Congress) has gone providing documentary evidence and videos, such as one in which Eric Herschmann, a White House legal collaborator at the time, could be seen recalling his reaction when he learned about the plans to put the puppet Clark at the head of the Department of Justice. He told her: “Congratulations, he just accepted a position with a first mission: to commit a serious crime.”
The task of reminding viewers of what happened in previous episodes fell, as usual, to Liz Cheney, the other Republican in the group, who is also the commission’s vice president. Until now, they have tried to show that Trump clung to the theory of electoral fraud, despite the fact that he had no evidence and despite the fact that his aides and relatives repeatedly told him that there was no case; that he pressured his vice president not to allow the transfer of powers, in an act that would have been illegal; that he participated in an electoral fraud attempt to obtain the votes he lacked; and that he endangered the lives of several officials by publicly revealing that they were not willing to help him search for the necessary ballots in states like Georgia or Arizona.
The president of the commission has announced that in the two remaining hearings they will focus on how he made his followers believe his big lie, he summoned them to Washington on January 6 and, when he was left with no other options to achieve his spurious objectives, “ resorted to violence.”
Despite the initial plans, the hearings will not continue next week, but will do so in mid-July. “We are still investigating,” Thompson warned.