What we learned on Day 5 of Jan. 6 committee hearings

In its fifth public hearing, the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack detailed its findings of how former President Trump pressured the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election results. NewsHour's Lisa Desjardins and Laura Barrón-López join Judy Woodruff to discuss.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    In its fifth public hearing, the congressional committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack detailed its findings of how former President Donald Trump pressured the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election results.

    Three of Mr. Trump's top Justice Department officials, the acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, the Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, and Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel, all recounted how Mr. Trump wanted the department to undermine and overturn the election and how, when that effort failed, Mr. Trump nearly installed a loyalist who would carry out his demands.

    Here's Donoghue.

    Richard Donoghue, U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of New York: And for the department to insert itself into the political process this way, I think would have had grave consequences for the country.

    It may very well have spiraled us into a constitutional crisis. And I wanted to make sure that he understood the gravity of the situation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Congressman Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans serving on the committee, led the presentation today. In his opening remarks he had a message for his party.

  • Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-IL):

    I want to take a moment now to speak directly to my fellow Republicans.

    Imagine the country's top prosecutor with the power to open investigations, subpoena, charge crimes, and seek imprisonment, imagine that official pursuing the agenda of the other party, instead of that of the American people as a whole. And if you're a Democrat, imagine it the other way around.

    Today, President Trump's total disregard for the Constitution and his oath will be fully exposed.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    "NewsHour" congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins and our White House correspondent, Laura Barrón-López, have been watching this hearing today. And they join me now.

    So, Laura, I'm going to turn to you first. So much of this hearing today, most of it was about the pressure that then-President Trump placed on the Justice Department to try to get them to do what he wanted them to do, which was overturn the election.

    Tell us how that case that the committee was making, the facts they put forward built the case that they were making.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    We heard today from top officials within President Trump's — former President Trump's Justice Department about that pressure that you just mentioned, Judy, about the fact that he wanted them to declare the 2020 election corrupt.

    We learned that Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows asked the DOJ to investigate whether Italian military satellites were manipulating voting machines. And we also heard from Trump's acting attorney general at the time, Rosen. And Rosen said that virtually every day between late December to early January, Trump was talking to him and calling him and trying to have conversations with him.

    And here's the litany of requests that Trump made to Rosen.

  • Jeffery Rosen, Former Acting U.S. Attorney General:

    So, the common element of all of this was the president expressing his dissatisfaction that the Justice Department, in his view, had not done enough to investigate election fraud.

    But, at different junctures, other topics came up at different intervals. So, at one point, he had raised the question of having a special counsel for election fraud. At a number of points, he raised requests that I meet with his campaign counsel, Mr. Giuliani.

    At one point, he raised the — whether the Justice Department would file a lawsuit in the Supreme Court. At a couple of junctures, there were questions about making public statements or about holding a press conference. One of the later junctures was this issue of sending a letter to state legislatures in Georgia or other states.

    And so there were different things raised at different parts of — or different intervals, with the common theme being his dissatisfaction about what the Justice Department had done to investigate election fraud.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    The dissatisfaction didn't stop there.

    President Trump also pressed — in a December 27 conversation, he pressed Rosen's deputy, Donoghue, to also investigate these allegations. And Donoghue told the committee that Trump brought forward an arsenal of allegations. And when asked by Congressman Kinzinger if any of them were credible, Donoghue said, no, they weren't.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, Laura, other than the former president himself, a central figure in all of this testimony today was Jeffrey Clark, that lower-level Justice Department official who was pushing the former — former President Trump's line about a fraud in the election.

    Tell us what we learn more today about his role in all this.

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Jeffrey Clark is a really fascinating figure here who was not present at the committee hearing at all today.

    And he is a former — well, he's an environmental lawyer. And he then became the head of the Civil Division within the Justice Department around 2020. And he was key in trying to convince Trump to install him as the head of the Justice Department, because he told Trump that he would essentially be a yes-man and was willing to do all the things that Trump was asking the Justice Department to do, and to replace Rosen with himself.

    Now, we heard about the big meeting that happened on January 3 in the Oval Office with former President Trump with his acting attorney general, Rosen, the deputies, as well as Jeffrey Clark. And, in that meeting, Trump asked, what would happen if he replaced Rosen with Clark?

    And here's what Donoghue, the deputy A.G., at the time said would happen.

  • Richard Donoghue:

    He said: "So, suppose I do this. Suppose I replace him, Jeff Rosen, with him, Jeff Clark. What would you do?"

    And I said: "Mr. President, I'm going to resign immediately. I'm not working one minute for this guy, who I had just declared was completely incompetent."

    And so the president immediately turned to Mr. Engel.

    And he said: "Steve, you wouldn't resign, would you?"

    And he said: "Absolutely, I would, Mr. President. You leave me no choice."

  • Laura Barrón-López:

    Donoghue went on to say that, also, hundreds of Department of Justice officials would go on to resign if Trump tried to install Jeffrey Clark atop of the Justice Department.

    And one final important point about Clark here, Judy, is that he went before the committee in private deposition, and he pled the Fifth over and over again, so as not to incriminate himself.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    It appears he didn't answer any of the — any of the committee questions.

    Lisa, I want to turn to you now.

    We learned more today about the role in all of this of several members of Congress, didn't we?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We heard a lot of accusations and witness testimony about roles of members of Congress.

    And this speaks to exactly what Laura was reporting about. How did someone who was lower level in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, be poised to become attorney general at this important moment? And in that, we heard testimony again from the former deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue.

    He had this fascinating bit, Judy, where he said — he talked about a phone call he was on with President Trump. And during that phone call, Mr. Donoghue took notes on a pad near his phone, because he wanted to record all the allegations that the former president was making.

    And I want to show you a graphic of one of the things that he said the former President Trump told him. He told him that he — that he was asked by the president: "Just say the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen."

    So, therefore, President Trump is implicated in this evidence Republican congressmen in this idea of overturning the election, calling it corrupt, whether it was or not.

    We had a little bit more evidence about who he was talking about, at least in part, or who the committee believes is involved, Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania, Republican. He is also currently the leader of the House Freedom Caucus, known for its conservative values and for really trying to affect what happens on the floor of the House.

    I reached out to Representative Perry's office. We haven't heard back yet from him. But the idea was that Perry himself is the one who raised — helped raise Jeffrey Clark as a potential to change the top of the Justice Department, so that it could help President Trump.

    Here's an exchange that we heard today, Adam Kinzinger, the congressman, going through some of the text exchanges between Representative Perry and then Chief of Staff to President Trump Mark Meadows. Here's what he laid out.

  • Adam Kinzinger:

    Meadows responds with: "I got it. I think I understand. Let me work on the deputy position."

    Representative Perry than texts: "Roger, just sent you something on Signal. Just sent you an updated file. Did you call Jeff Clark?"

    Mr. Donoghue, Representative Perry called you the next day, on December 27. Who told him to call you?

  • Richard Donoghue:

    My understanding is the president did, at the outset of the call.

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    And so that's the idea that a member of Congress was actually getting involved in what this committee sees as plots.

    We are waiting to hear from these members of Congress specifically.

    One other thing we heard today that was very notable, this committee raised evidence, testimony from those in the White House that said six members of Congress had asked for pardons specifically for themselves, and that another representative, Jordan, had asked about whether pardons would be issued.

    Representative Jordan has issued a statement tonight saying that is absolutely not true. He called it 100 percent fake news.

    But we have asked these other representatives, Scott Perry, one of them. Mo Brooks, Louie Gohmert, Matt Gaetz, Marjorie Taylor Greene, and Andy Biggs are the ones that the committee testimony today said asked for pardons for themselves in relation to the 2020 election, and what they had said, again, very serious accusations, especially from one — from members of Congress against the other.

    So we're waiting to hear for their — from their response.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Yes, and we heard White House — former White House aides and advisers making some of those statements.

    And, finally, Lisa, this was the last hearing that we know has been scheduled. But we are now told there are going to be more hearings in the future. What do we know about that? And looking back on what we have learned so far, how do you put it together?

  • Lisa Desjardins:

    We expect more hearings in July. We do not yet know how many. We don't know when. And one source told me that they're still deciding that, that they have a mountain of evidence to go through.

    And, in fact, they are getting more evidence now. One example, Representative Mo Brooks of Alabama, I just mentioned him as someone who was in the hearing today, testimony saying he'd asked for a pardon. We now know, tonight, reporting that Mo Brooks has actually been subpoenaed, and we here agreed to testify coming up.

    So that's the kind of testimony that I think this committee wants to get in-house and then see what they do with it next.

    Representative Lynne Cheney — Liz Cheney said at the beginning tonight that there is much more to say. We expect to hear more from Trump White House officials specifically, she said.

    And what have we concluded here? What do we take away from these past few weeks of hearings? Well, some bigger points here, I think, Judy, when we were talking about it as a team, from what they're looking at, is that President Trump, according to this committee, repeatedly tried different ways to try and overturn the election.

    Here is what we heard from the committee. One of those, of course, was dealing with the Department of Justice, and exactly trying to change the leadership there to help him, another pressuring Vice President Pence. We heard an entire committee hearing about that.

    In addition, working on trying to force state officials or pressure state officials to change the actual election count in their state. And then we also heard about slates of electors and efforts to try and present and have fake sets of electors which did not match the states' votes be presented here in Congress.

    So, you see the committee here is laying out a case that it wasn't just one incident, from their point of view, of the president, former president, trying to overturn the election, which I suspect they would argue was more than enough to make a case, but that it was many, that he was trying every which way he could to try and manipulate the U.S. democratic system for his own political gain.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A lot of evidence so far, and, as you say, the committee is saying there is much more to come.

    Lisa Desjardins, Laura Barrón-López, thank you both.

Listen to this Segment