WASHINGTON: The Senate Judiciary Committee met privately Wednesday with a former U.S. attorney in Georgia who resigned in January as then-President Donald Trump waged a pressure campaign on state and federal officials to overturn his presidential defeat part of a larger probe into Trumps actions after the November election.
The interview was with Byung J. BJay Pak, who resigned as a U.S. attorney in Atlanta the day after a call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger became public, according to a person familiar with the committee meeting.
In a recording of the call between Trump and Raffensperger, obtained the day after by The Associated Press and other outlets, Trump is heard urging Raffensperger to find enough votes to overturn Joe Bidens win in the state. He also appeared to criticize Pak, whom he had appointed, indicating Pak hadnt done enough to try and overturn the election. Trump called Pak a never Trumper.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said after Wednesday’s interview that Pak “answered all questions in a seemingly honest and candid way, and my impression is that he believes in the rule of law and that he stood up for it. Blumenthal did not provide details of the conversation.
The interview is part of efforts by Democrats in the House and Senate to investigate the former presidents baseless claims about widespread election fraud refuted by election officials and courts across the country and his push within the Justice Department to investigate the matter. Trump’s pressure on the department came just before the Jan. 6 insurrection, when hundreds of his supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol and interrupted the certification of Bidens victory. Months later, Trump is still pushing the false fraud claims.
As part of its investigation, the Judiciary Committee spent several hours on Saturday interviewing Trumps acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen. Senators also interviewed his former top deputy, Richard Donoghue, virtually on Friday. It is unclear if the committee will interview more officials.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Dick Durbin, D-Ill., said Sunday that Rosen was very open” during the interview “and theres a lot there.
Durbin said the pressure from Trump on Justice Department officials after Attorney General William Barr resigned was real, very real and very specific. Barr resigned in December after telling the AP that the Justice Department had found no evidence of the widespread fraud, leaving others at the department vulnerable to Trumps repeated demands.
I think its a good thing for America that we had a person like Rosen in that position, who withstood the pressure, Durbin said Sunday on CNNs State of the Union. He said he thinks history is going to be very kind to Mr. Rosen when its all over.
Rosen also met on Friday with the Justice Departments inspector general, whose office is investigating Trumps claims and the internal pressure on Justice officials. His testimony to investigators in both interviews was described to the AP by five people with direct knowledge of the interviews and Trumps efforts to influence the Justice Department. All spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the private details of those conversations.
Rosen told both the inspector general and Congress that Jeffrey Clark, then in charge of the Justice Departments civil division, pressed others in the department to make false statements about the election in an effort to push Trumps baseless claims that the election was fraudulent. Rosen also spoke of efforts by both Clark and Trump to oust him as the acting attorney general because he was refusing to go along with their plan.
Trump demanded Rosen appoint a special counsel to investigate his baseless election fraud claims something Barr had pointedly refused to do. He continued calling Rosen to say he didnt understand why the Justice Department wasnt uncovering evidence supporting his claims and complained that Rosen wasnt fighting hard enough for him.
Rosen also told investigators that Clark met with Trump and crafted a letter that Trump wanted Rosen to send to Georgia state lawmakers. It told them to void Bidens electoral win and claim that the Justice Department was investigating fraud in the states election. But Rosen and his top deputy, Rich Donoghue, refused to send it, those familiar with the interview said.
Rosen told them that he and Donoghue decided to resign if Rosen were fired, and eventually informed Trump of that plan in a White House meeting. Trump backed down and allowed Rosen to stay, he said.
Durbin has said he would also like to speak to Clark and Trumps chief of staff, Mark Meadows, but its unclear whether they would appear. The other officials received specific clearance for the interview from Bidens Justice Department.
The House Oversight committee has also been investigating the Justice Department pressure, and last week interviewed Patrick Hovakimian, a former associate deputy attorney general who had also been given clearance to testify, according to a person familiar with the congressional investigation. The person was not authorized to discuss it publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Hovakimian discussed with the committee a Jan. 3 document he drafted in the event that Trump fired Rosen. In the letter, reported by Politico last week, Hovakimian described how Rosen had repeatedly refused the Presidents direct instructions to utilize the Department of Justices law enforcement powers for improper means. It said that he and Donoghue were resigning, effective immediately.
The letter, which was never sent, was intentionally addressed to Justice Department component heads and other senior officials so that a broad audience of employees could understand what had happened and who precisely had stood up for the Justice Departments institutional interests, according to the person familiar with the investigation who was granted anonymity to discuss it.
The Oversight panel has now turned over parts of their probe to a new House panel investigating the insurrection. Leaders of that committee have said they plan to conduct extensive interviews about events that led up to the violent attack, including Trumps falsehoods about the election.
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