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Former DOJ officials to testify during the 5th House Jan. 6 hearing

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Each day of hearings on January 6 explores a different way that a former president tried to undermine this republic.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

On Tuesday, Republican state officials testified that Donald Trump asked them to violate their oaths of office. Today, the hearings focus on the Department of Justice. Trump's own appointees to run the department have said he wanted them to promote election lies.

INSKEEP: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is covering the hearings. Carrie, good morning.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: Why do the former president's own appointees say that he went too far at DOJ?

JOHNSON: Well, the Justice Department is not supposed to do the personal political bidding of the president, but that's exactly what we're likely to hear today from the committee, that the former president misused this department to try to cling to power, doing things like trying to get Justice to appoint a special counsel to probe nonexistent fraud. We know former Attorney General Bill Barr told Trump all these claims about election fraud were nonsense. Barr resigned in December 2020, but right after that, former President Trump started putting the squeeze on other top officials at Justice. There were something like nine calls or meetings demanding DOJ officials investigate fraud claims over the course of just a few weeks. Here's how the acting deputy attorney general, Rich Donoghue, put it in a deposition.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

RICH DONOGHUE: And I said something to the effect of, sir, we've done dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews. The major allegations are not supported by the evidence developed.

JOHNSON: Donoghue says he told the former president he was dead wrong when he made claims about fraud in Georgia, for example.

INSKEEP: Yeah, we've already seen the video of that deposition. Now he testifies in person before the committee today. Is he the only person who is saying this?

JOHNSON: No. We expect to see former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Steve Engel, who led the Office of Legal Counsel at Justice. It's unusual for lawyers at this level to testify in public about interactions with the White House, but the current president, Joe Biden, decided that executive privilege should not apply to shield these conversations about an effort to overthrow the 2020 election. One person we're not going to be hearing from today is former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark. He's described as being sympathetic to Trump's baseless claims of fraud and also drafting a letter to officials in Georgia to try to help Trump's cause. Clark did appear for a deposition, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination there.

INSKEEP: Now, why would Clark need to invoke the Fifth Amendment?

JOHNSON: Well, an investigation by the Senate Judiciary Committee found Clark was going around his boss at the Justice Department, taking private meetings with the White House and at least one Republican member of Congress, Scott Perry of Pennsylvania. Trump had seriously considered whether to fire Jeff Rosen and install Jeff Clark as the acting attorney general. Steve, this all came to a head only three days before January 6. In a bizarre meeting at the White House some people have likened to Trump's old reality TV show "The Apprentice," virtually the entire DOJ leadership team threatened to resign if Trump gave Jeff Clark the job. Here's again what Rich Donoghue told the committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONOGHUE: The president said, suppose I do this. Suppose I replace Jeff Rosen with him, Jeff Clark. What do you do? And I said, sir, I would resign immediately. There is no way I'm serving one minute under this guy, Jeff Clark.

JOHNSON: The prospect of Justice Department officials resigning in protest, of course, has a historical precedent, Steve. It happened 49 years ago during Watergate. We call it the Saturday Night Massacre. That was avoided here narrowly by some of the men we're going to hear from testify today.

INSKEEP: OK. We'll be listening. Carrie, thanks so much.

JOHNSON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Carrie Johnson. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.