Unbeknown to the public at the time, a handful of Justice officials scrambled to prevent Trump from ousting the acting head of the department, Jeffrey Rosen, if Rosen didn’t agree to have the agency publicly suggest the 2020 election results were invalid.
Ultimately, Trump’s effort to replace Rosen led to a White House meeting between Trump and several senior Justice Department leaders, in which the officials told the president that if he went ahead with his plan, swaths of the department’s senior leadership would resign in protest, delegitimizing any attempt by Trump to undo the election results.
Trump eventually backed down, leaving Rosen in place. The standoff did not become known until weeks later, and lawmakers on the House panel have said the events are a critical part of understanding the lengths Trump was willing to go to in order to remain in power.
The Trump confrontation was described in exhaustive detail earlier this year in a nearly 400-page report by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Democratic staff.
But lingering questions remain which the hearing could address, such as how a congressman from Pennsylvania, Rep. Scott Perry (R), ended up joining forces with a little-known environmental lawyer in the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark, to push baseless claims of mass voter fraud.
In late December and early January, Trump threatened to replace Rosen with Clark at the top of the department if Rosen didn’t follow Trump’s wishes about declarations of voter fraud.
Rosen will, in some ways, be the star of Thursday’s hearing as the chief focus of Trump’s anger. But there will be other key witnesses from that standoff: Richard Donoghue, another senior Justice Department official, who also pushed back against Trump’s demands, and Steven A. Engel, a long-serving Trump Justice Department official who warned the president that any move to replace Rosen would prompt mass resignations.
During the standoff, when Trump suggested Clark might be the next acting attorney general, Donoghue flatly replied, “Sir, I would resign immediately. There is no way I’m serving one minute under this guy.”
That confrontation occurred on Jan. 3, 2020. Three days later, rioters stormed Congress, and the Justice Department, still led by Rosen, launched the largest investigation in its history, in terms of the number of people charged with crimes.
The Jan. 6 committee has taken a novel approach to the standard format of congressional hearings, generally forsaking the ritual of opening statements by all committee members to create a more orderly presentation of information. Lawmakers are using carefully curated, pretaped deposition excerpts to focus on specific allegations or instances of misconduct.
The Jan. 6 committee’s work is also somewhat unique among modern-day congressional hearings in that it doesn’t feature members of the minority party offering countering interpretations of facts.
This story will be updated.