In the lead-up to Jan. 6, American democracy teetered on a razor’s edge. And the Justice Department was that razor.
The first four days of the House Jan. 6 committee public hearings revealed the crazed mission then-President Donald Trump and his campaign were on to provide legal pretext to their attempt at overturning the 2020 election.
But ultimately, their goal was for the Department of Justice to affirm that pretext publicly. Trump wanted to stop certification of the election by perverting the law, and he needed a DOJ stooge in a suit to help him. Thursday’s hearing introduced former DOJ officials who all testified about the incessant demands Trump made for them to lend credence to his election fraud lies.
“Donald Trump didn’t just want the Justice Department to investigate, he wanted the Justice Department to help legitimize his lies,” committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening remarks.
Like all authoritarians, Trump wanted a division of officials who use propaganda and dubious legal tactics to carry out his lawless requests and cover up his wrongdoing. Trump seemed to think the DOJ should operate as some combination of the Nazi Schutzstaffel (SS) and Hitler’s Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda — fascist storytellers with executive authority. Thursday gave us a glimpse of how he tried to hammer his lies into his underlings’ minds.
Specifically, former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and former Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue explained what it was like being on the receiving end of Trump’s conspiratorial tirades.
Rosen, who took over after Attorney General Bill Barr stepped down in December 2020, testified on Thursday that Trump contacted him virtually every day from Dec. 23, 2020, to Jan. 3, 2021. He said Trump urged him to investigate baseless allegations of voter fraud. Keep in mind, according previous testimony, this was after Barr and others made clear to Trump that his allegations were “bullshit.”
Donoghue, the former deputy AG under Rosen, testified that Trump presented an “arsenal” of false election fraud claims to him and other DOJ officials in December of 2020. Despite being told the claims were false, Donoghue said, Trump told him to “just say the election was corrupt, and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
People formerly in Trump’s inner circle, like his former personal attorney Michael Cohen, have testified publicly about the way Trump tries to get people to lie on his behalf — even illegally. Thursday’s hearing showed us how the former president sought to co-opt the Justice Department in a similar way.