The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol didn’t use the first precious moments of its first prime-time hearing to show the dramatic and violent new footage it had uncovered — instead it turned to the lawyers.
The committee’s first evidence came from former Attorney General William P. Barr — testifying on video at a deposition that he told former President Donald Trump that claims of election fraud were “bullshit.”
And Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the committee will cite testimony from Barr, as well as former Justice Department officials and campaign attorneys, as it seeks to tell the story of Trump’s monthslong pressure campaign to overturn his 2020 election loss that led to the violent attack on the Capitol.
Cheney argued in an opening statement the hearings would show how Donald Trump and his advisers “knew that he had in fact lost the election.”
“But despite this, President Trump engaged in a massive effort to spread false and fraudulent information to convince huge portions of the U.S. population that fraud had stolen the election from him,” Cheney said.
The never-before-seen images of the violent mob of Trump supporters attacking police officers at the Capitol Building would wait. First, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., played the clip of Barr at a witness table.
“I made it clear I did not agree with the idea of saying the election was stolen and putting out this stuff, which I told the president was bullshit,” Barr said in the clip.
Barr noted Trump’s actions were a factor in his decision to leave his post in December 2020. “We can’t live in a world where the incumbent administration stays in power based on its view, unsupported by specific evidence, that there was fraud in the election,” Barr said on the video.
Cheney argued the committee will make clear over the next several hearings that after Barr’s resignation, other officials then at the Justice Department, such as Richard Donoghue resisted pressure from Trump and the president’s allies in government.
Cheney played a different clip of Barr, when he said he told Trump that allegations about Dominion voting machines were groundless. “And I told them that it was crazy stuff, and they were wasting their time on that, and it was doing a great grave disservice to the country,” Barr said on the second clip.
Cheney spotlighted former Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Bossert Clark, who was initially confirmed to lead the Energy and Natural Resources Division of the Justice Department, but was named acting head of the DOJ’s civil division in December 2020.
Cheney noted that Clark was offered the position of acting attorney general amid Trump’s effort to have the Justice Department intervene in the certification of the 2020 election results. Cheney said Clark did not cooperate with the committee and had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The committee played a video of Donoghue testifying about a conversation with Clark. “I recall toward the end saying, ‘What you’re proposing is nothing less than the United States Justice Department meddling in the outcome of a presidential election,’” Donoghue said.
Cheney noted the committee plans to use testimony from Donoghue and former acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen over the course of the month, and that they were both hired by Trump.
“These men honored their oath of office, they did their duty and you will hear from them in our hearings,” Cheney said.
She also cited an incident where White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, along with his staff, threatened to resign in protest in response to the Jan. 6 attack. Cheney called that action “exceedingly rare and exceedingly serious,” but noted the White House did not take the threat seriously.
Cheney aired a clip of a deposition with Jared Kushner, Trump’s son in law who served as an adviser, where he referred to Cipillone’s threat as “whining.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee had laid out some details of Trump’s monthslong pressure campaign on the Justice Department in a report last year. However, the committee aired new information Thursday, including Donoghue’s testimony and Cipollone’s multiple threats to resign.
The testimony from attorneys may also help illuminate the actions of key players who have not spoken to the committee. The committee aired multiple clips of depositions with people who talked to former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in the lead-up to Jan. 6.
The panel played part of a video deposition of Alex Cannon, a former Trump campaign lawyer, speaking about how he told Meadows in mid-November that he wasn’t finding anything sufficient to overturn the election.
“I remember sharing with [Meadows] that we weren’t finding anything that would be sufficient to change the results in any of the key states,” Cannon said.
And Cannon testified that Meadows’ response was, “I believe the words he used were, ‘So there’s no ‘there’ there?’”
“There’s no ‘there’ there,” Cheney repeated aloud for emphasis from the dais at Thursday’s hearing.
The Trump campaign’s general counsel, Matt Morgan, gave similar testimony, Cheney said. “He explained that all of the fraud allegations, and the campaign’s other election arguments, taken together, and viewed in the best possible light for President Trump, could still not change the outcome of the election,” Cheney said.
Meadows has refused to sit for an interview with the committee and filed a still-active lawsuit seeking to keep the committee from accessing his records from Verizon and others. The House voted to recommend contempt of Congress charges against Meadows, but the Justice Department told the committee that it would decline to charge Meadows.
The committee plans to hold multiple hearings throughout the rest of the month, Cheney said, including hearings next week that include the fact that attorneys may have known Trump’s claims about election fraud were false.