4 takeaways from Thursday January 6 hearing: NPR

From left, Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, Jeffrey Rosen, former interim attorney general, and Richard Donoghue, former interim deputy attorney general, testify before the House Select Committee to investigate the case. January 6 attack on the United States Thursday Capitol.

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From left, Steven Engel, former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, Jeffrey Rosen, former interim attorney general, and Richard Donoghue, former interim deputy attorney general, testify before the House Select Committee to investigate the case. January 6 attack on the United States Thursday Capitol.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

A president desperate to keep power and embroiled in fringe Internet conspiracies engaged in a multi-layered conspiracy, lobbying senior Justice Department officials and seeking crumbs of legitimacy for his election lies – facts be to hell.

“Just say he was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the members of the Republican Congress,” former President Trump said, according to testimony Thursday by Richard Donoghue, former interim deputy attorney general, in the commission’s fifth hearing on the 6th. January.

Donoghue, who took contemporary notes on that conversation, and several others with the former president, pointed out that it was an “exact” quote. Trump made remarks in the transition period between the 2020 presidential election he lost and the January 6 uprising.

It was just one of many dramatic moments from the audition that he painted, in vivid colors, scenes that looked like they were straight out of a Hollywood political thriller.

But this wasn’t a movie.

It was the final days of the Trump presidency and these hearings showed how thin a thread was that held American democracy together.

Here are four ideas from the audition:

1. The details of the pressure on the Justice Department showed that Trump has crossed all boundaries of the department’s independence.

Department of Justice officials serve for the president’s pleasure, but presidential interference in the investigation and internal workings of the department has long been frowned upon in American tradition.

None of this seemed to matter to Trump, according to multiple witnesses Thursday.

Trump called and met almost every day after election day with top Justice Department officials, peppering them with false allegations to investigate. But when he was told there was no evidence for the conspiracy theory after the conspiracy theory, it wasn’t enough for him, witnesses said.

“We have an obligation to tell the people that it was an illegal and corrupt election,” Donoghue recalled that Trump had told him, his notes shown on the screen behind the committee members.

Time was ticking on Trump and the committee showed that Trump was a man who would do almost whatever it takes to stay in power and saw the Justice Department as a key vehicle.

He publicly disagreed with his attorney general, Bill Barr, who resigned under pressure. Trump wanted Barr to appoint a special advisor. Conspiracy theorist attorney Sidney Powell testified on camera that Trump had asked her to be that special consultant.

Trump has leaned on the new interim Attorney General, Jeffrey Rosen, calling or meeting him almost every day with the exception of Christmas and New Years, Rosen testified. And Trump threatened to replace Rosen with someone who wanted act on his election lies.

2. If senior DOJ officials disagreed, Trump would find someone who would.

Trump threatened to install Jeffrey Clark, a lower-level DOJ environmental lawyer, in the top spot. Rep Scott Perry introduced Clark to Trump and Clark was ready to carry out Trump’s orders.

Clark was walking behind his superiors to meet with the president, violating departmental protocols, officials said. Clark had drafted a letter in which he pressured state officials to take action to overturn the election, citing evidence that he had no problem with voting.

“This other guy might just do something,” Trump told Rosen, Rosen recalled, noting Trump’s frustration with Rosen for not pursuing his election lies as legitimate.

Donoghue, for the record, said he and others in the department have been investigating each of Trump’s distant conspiracies. Everyone was without merit, he said. He and Rosen testified and told Trump, correcting him repeatedly “serially” as Trump moved from one accusation to the next.

Trump and his cabinet chief Mark Meadows even protested a distant conspiracy theory that Italian satellites had been rigged to shift votes from Trump to Biden. This went so far that, despite Donoghue calling the theory “pure madness” and “patently absurd”, interim Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, at Meadows’ request, called the Rome Defense Officer, who also rejected the conspiracy.

Trump, however, thought there was something there. How come? “You may not follow the Internet like me,” Trump said, according to Donoghue’s notes.

Frustrated, Trump nearly appointed Clark’s attorney general. He only hesitated when Donoghue noted emphatically in a high-pressure meeting of the Oval Office that he and many others would resign if Trump took that drastic step.

“What have I got to lose?” Trump said at one point, for Donoghue. Donoghue tried to convince him that, personally – and the country – he had a lot to lose.

Donoghue told Trump that Clark’s promises were in vain, that he could not deliver on what Trump wanted and would do so in a matter of days, especially since the allegations had already been investigated and turned out to be false.

“This is absurd,” Donoghue told Trump. “It will not happen and it will fail.”

3. Several members of Congress have asked for pardon

Another surprising element of Thursday’s hearing was the revelation that several right-wing Republican members of Congress, who were in one way or another involved in January 6, have asked for pardon.

Multiple witnesses, including attorneys and White House staff, testified that at least five, possibly six, Republicans asked for pardon: Representatives Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., Mo Brooks, R-Ala., Louie Gohmert, R-Texas , Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., And Scott Perry, R-Pa.

There was some doubt that Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga. he asked for one too, as a White House staff member testified that he heard that Greene did, but she didn’t know firsthand. Greene denies asking for one.

Everyone denied the wrong.

“The only reason I know how to pardon is if you have committed a crime,” said Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Who led the interrogation Thursday.

Of course, it is also possible that these members, so deeply entangled in the conspiracy, in their own minds, felt that a newly coined Justice Department under a Democratic president would go after them.

“It is not a crime to seek pardon in the United States of America,” rep Jamie Raskin, D-Md., A member of the committee, told CNN after hearing his colleagues asking for pardon. “Nobody can be prosecuted for this, but I think if we use our common sense, if we use our common sense Tom Paynian, then it would indicate some consciousness of guilt or some fear that you might be prosecuted for what you did.”

4. No one was too big or too small for Trump’s campaign of pressure in his desperate attempt to stay in power.

These five days of hearings revealed how far Trump would go to keep power.

His pressure was relentless and multifaceted. And no one was immune, from people at the top of the government like his vice president and senior Justice Department officials to others doing the job of running the elections, like Wandrea “Shaye” Moss.

Moss testified Tuesday that his life had been turned upside down, that his personal life had been literally destroyed as a result of Trump’s no-holds-barred attempt to cling to the White House.

He insisted on diligent local election officials, who normally receive no attention – let alone death threats – to follow the plans he and those around him have come up with to overturn the American electoral system.

It must grieve Trump that it didn’t work, that despite all his efforts, he didn’t. With all of this projected in bright light, it will be remarkable to see how Americans move after this. Does Trump continue to exert that kind of influence in the Republican Party or will he seem more vulnerable if he decides to run again in 2024?