Could they defend the president by then telling acting assistant attorney general Richard Donoghue in a phone call, “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen”?
Could they defend the president for asking why the government was not seizing voting machines that his campaign lawyers had targeted with a bogus conspiracy theory involving Venezuela and its former leader Hugo Chávez?
Could they defend his plan to replace acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen with an assistant attorney general named Jeffrey Clark, who other DOJ officials say was not competent to lead the department and yet willingly stepped down? complied with the president’s orders to prevent Congress from ratifying Joe Biden’s victory?
Could they defend Clark’s drafting of a letter to be sent to several swing states saying the department had “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election” when in fact there were no was any evidence to back this up?
Could they defend the discussion of appointing attorney Sidney Powell — who along with Rudy Giuliani, the president’s attorney, was promoting various conspiracy theories for which there was no evidence — as special counsel to lead an investigation that had no other purpose than to delay and disrupt?
Could they defend the fact that a lawyer named Kenneth Klukowski, who had joined the Justice Department after the election and worked with Clark, was also working with Trump’s outside counsel, John Eastman, an architect of the self -so-called false voter strategy?
Could they defend Trump’s repeated attempts to intimidate, harass, and otherwise try to coerce state or local authorities to nullify recounted and certified election results in their jurisdictions?
Could they defend him by asking Georgian Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes” and thereby rob Biden of his rightful victory in that state with a single vote?
Could they defend efforts to persuade Russell “Rusty” Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona House, to mount a formal election investigation without providing evidence of fraud?
Could they defend what Giuliani said to Bowers, according to the speaker’s testimony, which was: “We have a lot of theories. We just don’t have the proof”?
There was a moment during Thursday’s hearing when the deviousness of the efforts of the President and his loyalists turned into delusion, showing how Trump, then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, sought to use government agencies to advance their plan. It was one of the craziest conspiracies of the entire post-election era, that an Italian defense contractor somehow uploaded software to a satellite that then transferred votes from Trump to Biden.
Reportedly, Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) contacted Meadows to ask why the administration couldn’t work with the Italian government on the matter. Meadows sent the link to a video describing the plot to Rosen, who sent it to Donoghue, who watched the video and determined it was “pure madness”.
Meadows nonetheless urged Rosen to meet with one of the plotters, a man named Brad Johnson. Rosen said he wouldn’t, that the person could go to any FBI field office if he had real evidence to offer.
Meadows seemed to accept this answer, but later called back to say that Johnson was working with Giuliani and that Giuliani was offended and insulted to be told that Johnson would have to go to an FBI field office.
It wasn’t the end. Donoghue then received a call from a Ministry of Defense official asking for “that story from Italy”. Donoghue told the official that it was all murky, that the video “was nonsense” and that justice had nothing to do with it anymore.
But the committee heard that acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, whom Trump appointed after firing former secretary Mark T. Esper, had called a defense attaché in Italy for information that would confirm the claims by Giuliani and Trump.
Perhaps Trump’s defenders would try to defend the whole thing as a simple effort to follow every lead. But the sheer absurdity of Italy’s satellite conspiracy theory begs the question of how the president, his chief of staff and Giuliani could fall for something so outlandish, other than out of a desire to do whatever they could to disrupt the orderly counting of the elections. votes and prevent an orderly transition – even after learning that Trump had lost the election.
Everything discussed at the two public hearings last week was not new. In fact, a considerable amount of information had already been reported. The audio of Trump’s Jan. 3, 2021, phone call to Raffensperger, for example, was made public at the time, thanks to reporting by my colleague Amy Gardner. Stories of exchanges between Trump and DOJ officials had also emerged earlier.
But the power to see the actors involved — Trump-appointed Justice Department officials and Republican lawmakers in Georgia and Arizona (as well as local election worker Shaye Moss of Fulton County, Georgia, and her mother, Ruby Freeman, who were targeted by Trump and Giuliani) lent credence to those earlier reports.
Many scandals since Watergate have been associated with the word “gate”. In this case, the comparisons are legitimate. Like Nixon, Trump sought to undermine the Constitution in hopes of clinging to power.
Thursday’s testimony showed that Trump was ready to turn the Justice Department into an agent of his own campaign. He also faced a repeat of the famous “Saturday Night Massacre” during Watergate.
The president was told by Donoghue during an Oval Office meeting that if he replaced Rosen with Clark, he could expect a mass exodus of top DOJ brass and the possibility of hundreds of resignations. Faced with this, he decided against moving forward and appointing Clark as acting attorney general.
The January 6 committee is putting together the best case possible, based on extensive evidence gathered over several months. Only the members of the committee and their staff know what exculpatory elements may exist in their files. Hearings are not a court. There is no cross-examination of witnesses.
But virtually all of the witnesses who have appeared in person or by video have been members of the Trump administration or his campaign, advisers to former Vice President Mike Pence, or Republicans from swing states — in other words. , officials who likely all voted for Trump and, as Bowers said after his testimony, would do so again if Trump were the GOP nominee in 2024.
Trump may privately complain about the lack of advocates on the committee, but the evidence presented so far is both damaging and difficult to defend. Trump’s only response was to repeat the lies about a stolen election. Other Republicans would rather look the other way than try to defend the president’s conduct.