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Tense Trump meeting with DOJ leaders to take center stage at Jan. 6 hearing

The House committee’s fifth public hearing will focus on Trump's effort to draw upon the Justice Department's legal muscle and authority as he tried to overturn the 2020 election.

WASHINGTON — The Jan. 6 committee plans to take viewers inside the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, when witnesses describe a contentious meeting in which Justice Department leaders threatened to resign if then-President Donald Trump promoted a political appointee who was prepared to back up his false claims of election fraud.

The committee’s fifth public hearing will focus on the former president’s effort to draw upon the department’s legal muscle and authority as he tried to overturn the 2020 election.

In keeping with a message the committee has been hammering home, the hearing is expected to show how America’s democratic tradition survived largely due to the integrity of a few people who stood up to Trump and refused to go along with his plan to retain power.

Three former senior Justice Department officials who rebuffed Trump at the time will be testifying live: Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general; Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general; and Steven Engel, who led the department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

All three took part in an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3, 2021 — three days before the attack on the Capitol — in which Trump considered ousting Rosen and replacing him with Jeffrey Clark, an environmental official at the department. Although the department had already concluded there was no fraud on a scale that would have influenced the election result, Clark was prepared “to reverse the department’s investigative conclusion … if he was appointed,” a Jan. 6 committee aide told reporters in a conference call Wednesday.

Had Trump fired Rosen, Clark would have sent out “fraudulent letters urging state legislatures to withdraw” their certifications that Joe Biden had won those states, the aide said.

“We’ll see that, again, President Trump only failed here because the senior Department of Justice leadership team stood up and threatened to resign rather than help the president subvert the democratic process,” the aide said.

Trump wanted to deploy the Justice Department in various ways to help him secure a second term. At the hearing, the aide said, the panel will describe how Trump pressed the department to file lawsuits in conjunction with his re-election campaign, which in the wake of the November election tried to contest Biden’s victory through the courts. The committee will also detail how Trump wanted the department to appoint a special counsel to investigate cases of election fraud — a request that officials rejected.

The hearing is scheduled to start at 3 p.m. ET and is expected to last about two hours. More hearings are planned for July and will focus on Trump’s actions when a mob stormed the Capitol, among other issues.

The remaining schedule appears to be in flux, however, in part because of new information and leads that are coming into the committee’s tip line following the first public hearing on June 9.

One fresh piece of evidence the committee is now examining involves footage shot by British filmmaker Alex Holder during the campaign. The video includes interviews with Trump and his family members, along with then-Vice President Mike Pence. The panel is likely to highlight the footage in a future hearing.

Trump has not testified before the committee, and is not expected to do so, but has used his megaphone to undercut the panel’s work. He has accused members of selectively editing testimony to make him look bad. In a speech in Nashville, Tennessee, last week, Trump said: “This is a one-sided witch hunt.”