Then-President Donald Trump met with top Department of Justice officials on Jan. 3, 2021, to discuss a change of leadership, and it was proposed that environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark replace acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen, to investigate voter fraud in the 2020 election.
ADAM KINZINGER: President Trump's campaign to bend the Justice Department to his political will culminated in a showdown on January 3. Today, we will take you inside that early-evening Oval Office meeting where top Justice Department officials met with the president. At stake-- the leadership and integrity of the Department of Justice.
RICHARD DONOGHUE: The meeting took about another 2 and 1/2 hours from the time I entered. It was entirely focused on whether there should be a DOJ leadership change. I was sitting directly in front of the president. Jeff Rosen was to my right. Jeff Clark was to my left.
JEFFREY ROSEN: He looked at me, and underscored, well, the one thing we know is you're not going to do anything. You don't even agree that the concerns that are being presented are valid. And here is someone who has a different view. So why shouldn't I do that? That's how the discussion then proceeded.
ERIC HERSCHMANN: Jeff Clark was proposing that Jeff Rosen be replaced by Jeff Clark. And I thought the proposal was asinine.
- What were Clark's purported bases for why it was in the president's interest for him to step in? What would he do? How would things change, according to Mr. Clark in the meeting?
RICHARD DONOGHUE: He repeatedly said to the president that if he was put in the seat, he would conduct real investigations that would, in his view, uncover widespread fraud. He would send out the letter that he had drafted and that this was a last opportunity to set things straight with this defective election and that he could do it. And he had the intelligence and the will and the desire to pursue these matters in the way that the president thought most appropriate.
ERIC HERSCHMANN: And he was making a pitch. And every time, he would get clobbered over the head. He would say, you know, call to order the president. It's your decision. You get the chance to make this decision. And you've heard everybody, and you can make your determination. And then we jump back in and really clobber him.
RICHARD DONOGHUE: I made the point that Jeff Clark is not even competent to serve as the attorney general. He's never been a criminal attorney. He's never conducted a criminal investigation in his life. He's never been in front of a jury, much less a trial jury.
And he kind of retorted by saying, well, I've done a lot of very complicated appeals and civil litigation and environmental litigation and things like that. And I said, that's right. You're an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office, and we'll call you when there's an oil spill?
And Pat Cipollone weighed in at one point, I remember, saying, that letter that this guy wants to send, that letter is a murder-suicide pact. It's going to damage everyone who touches it. And we should have nothing to do with that letter. I don't ever want to see that letter again. And so we went along those lines.
ERIC HERSCHMANN: I thought Jeff's proposal, course proposal, was nuts. I mean, this is a guy, at a certain point-- listen, the best I can tell is the only thing you know about environmental and elections challenges is they both start with E. And based on your answers tonight, I'm not even certain you know that.
RICHARD DONOGHUE: The president said, suppose I do this. Suppose I replace him, Jeff Rosen, with him, Jeff Clark. What do you do?
ADAM KINZINGER: Well, we know these men before us did the right thing. But think about what happens if these justice officials make a different decision. What happens if they bow to the pressure? What would that do to us as a democracy, as a nation? Imagine a future where the president could screen applicants to the Justice Department with one question-- are you loyal to me or to the Constitution?