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Latest Jan. 6 hearing gave most riveting look yet at Trump’s post-election schemes

First Read is your briefing from “Meet the Press” and the NBC Political Unit on the day’s most important political stories and why they matter.
Steven Engel, former Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Counsel, from left, Jeffrey Rosen, former acting Attorney General, and Richard Donoghue, former acting Deputy Attorney General, are sworn in Thursday to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.Jacquelyn Martin / AP

WASHINGTON — If it’s Friday ... The Senate passes bipartisan gun legislation by 65-33 vote, and the House begins moving on the bill today. ... The U.S. Supreme Court strikes down New York restrictions on concealed handguns. ... Ukraine retreats from a key eastern city. ... Jan. 6 becomes a big topic in upcoming 2022 races. ... Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams battle over the airwaves. ... And we’re just four days away from another big Primary Day.

But first: The United States came two hours away from a constitutional crisis. 

That’s the clear conclusion from Thursday’s Jan. 6 hearing, where former Trump Justice Department officials described — in vivid detail — how the former president discussed replacing his attorney general with environmental DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark, who wanted to send a letter saying the department had serious concerns about the 2020 election results in Georgia. 

“My recollection is that when the president turned to me and said Steve, you wouldn’t leave, would you? I said, ‘Mr. President, I have been with you through four attorneys general, including two acting attorneys general, but I couldn’t be part of this,’” testified Steven Engel, the former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel. 

“Congratulations, you just admitted your first step or act you’d take as attorney general would be committing a felony” Trump lawyer/adviser Eric Herschmann recalled saying to Clark about his Georgia letter. 

Yesterday’s other testimony that caught our attention:

  • “There was a point at which the president said something about, ‘Why don’t you guys seize machines?’” said Richard Donoghue, the former acting deputy attorney general, about a Dec. 31 White House meeting.         
  • “What I’m just asking you to do is just say it was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen,” Donoghue recalled Trump saying.
  • “[Trump] wanted to talk about that he thought the election had been stolen, or was corrupt. That there was widespread fraud. I had told him that our reviews did not show that to be the case,” said former Jeffrey Rosen, the former acting attorney general. 

What yesterday — as well as the previous hearings — revealed was a defeated president trying to find any angle, any way to remain in power.  

And we heard it all from the president’s own men. 

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 65

That’s how many U.S. senators voted to pass gun safety legislation late Thursday, with 15 Republicans joining all 50 Democrats in supporting the bill. The legislation now heads to the House, where it is expected to pass today, per NBC’s Capitol Hill team.  

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was among the 15 Republicans who supported the bill, which also included two senators who are running for re-election this year — Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Indiana’s Todd Young. Four of the GOP’s retiring senators — Roy Blunt of Missouri, Richard Burr of North Carolina, Rob Portman of Ohio and Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania — also supported the legislation. 

The other GOP “yes” votes included John Cornyn of Texas, a lead negotiator on the bill, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Susan Collins of Maine, Joni Ernst of Iowa, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Mitt Romney of Utah. 

With the passage of the gun safety bill and the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down a concealed carry law in New York, Thursday proved to be one of the most consequential days for gun policy in decades. NBC’s Benjy Sarlin spoke to Stephen Gutowski, who reports on guns on his site The Reload, about what it all means, which you can check out on the Meet the Press Blog.

Other numbers to know:

6: The number of GOP House members who requested presidential pardons after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the committee investigating the attack revealed Thursday. 

25: The percentage of U.S. adults who say they have “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in the Supreme Court, a new low, per Gallup.

71,000: How many Ukrainians have arrived in the U.S. since war with Russia broke out in March.

20 million: The number of lives that scientists believe were saved by Covid-19 vaccines, the Associated Press reports.

200,000: The number of student loan borrowers who went to for-profit colleges whose student debt could be canceled, the Biden administration said.

Midterm roundup: Jan. 6 hits the campaign trail

While the Jan. 6 committee has put the 2021 attack on the Capitol back in the spotlight, the attack has also come up on the campaign trail. 

On Thursday Democrat Josh Shapiro launched an ad featuring footage of the riot and images showing his GOP opponent in the Pennsylvania’s gubernatorial race, state Sen. Doug Mastriano, passing through breached barricades (Mastriano has said he left the Capitol before the riot).

And next week, two House Republicans who supported an independent investigation into the Jan. 6 attack are facing primary challengers from their right. Mississippi GOP Rep. Michael Guest’s primary challenger Michael Cassidy has made Guest’s vote central to the race. Cassidy forced Guest into a primary runoff earlier this month. 

In Illinois, GOP Rep. Rodney Davis, who also supported an independent investigation, is facing off in a primary against fellow Republican incumbent, Mary Miller. The pair were forced into the same seat due to redistricting, and former President Donald Trump has backed Miller in the race. Trump is holding a rally in the district on Saturday. 

Elsewhere on the campaign trail: 

Missouri Senate: Politico reports on the launch of a new super PAC aimed at cutting down former Republican Gov. Eric Greitens in the Senate race, a move that comes days after his controversial video where he said he was going “RINO hunting” in reference to ‘Republicans in Name Only.” 

Massachusetts Governor: Democratic state Sen. Sonia Chang-Díaz is dropping her gubernatorial bid, clearing the primary for state Attorney General Maura Healey.

Georgia Governor: Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp will testify in the Fulton County investigation looking into the efforts to overturn the state’s presidential election. 

Pennsylvania Governor: Shapiro released another TV ad Friday painting Mastriano as extreme, with the new spot focusing solely on Mastriano’s views on abortion.

South Carolina Governor: When asked by CNN if Biden should run in 2024, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Joe Cunningham said the country needs “new leadership,” adding, “I’m not sure if any of us know any 86-year-olds who should be running the entire country.” 

New York-23: GOP Conference Chairwoman Elise Stefanik frustrated fellow House leaders when she endorsed Carl Paladino, a controversial candidate running to replace retiring Rep. Chris Jacobs, NBC News’ Allan Smith reports.

Wyoming At-Large: Republican Rep. Liz Cheney is looking to sway Democrats to change their registration to vote in the GOP primary in order to help her keep her seat, the New York Times reports.

Ad watch: Back-and-forth in Georgia

new election law in effect this cycle in Georgia allows certain candidates for governor to form “leadership committees,” groups affiliated with campaigns that can raise unlimited contributions from donors.

This week, the leadership committees formed by Republican Gov. Brian Kemp and Democratic opponent Stacey Abrams took aim at each other on the airwaves.

A new ad from Kemp’s leadership committee, Georgians First, features a clip of Abrams telling a news program she would be in favor of allocating resources away from cops. “Fewer cops, more crime. Stacey Abrams is wrong and dangerous,” a narrator in the ad concludes.

An ad from Abrams’ leadership committee, One Georgia, hits Kemp over a new gun law he signed that allows permit-less concealed carry in the state. A pediatric nurse practitioner in the ad tells viewers, “Gov. Kemp’s new gun law that makes it easier for criminals to carry loaded guns in public is not only irresponsible; it’s directly harmful to Georgia’s children and families.”

ICYMI: What else is happening in the world 

President Biden proposed sweeping changes to Title IX, a gender equity law, that would extend the statute’s prohibition of discrimination based on sex to discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Politico reports that Democrats began to make their cases to the Democratic National Committee yesterday for why their states should be the first-in-the-nation Democratic primary in 2024.