On Thursday, those same handwritten notes flashed on an oversize video panel in a hearing room amid a riveting afternoon of testimony before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Donoghue and two other former top Justice Department officials also told the committee in extraordinary detail about how he — along with the acting attorney general and Trump’s own White House counsel and others — confronted the president in an explosive Oval Office meeting on Jan. 3, 2021.
The meeting centered on a plan by a mid-level Justice official, Jeffrey Clark, to become attorney general. New details released at the hearing revealed just how close the Justice Department came to collapsing and throwing the country into an unprecedented constitutional crisis.
Among those details: a possible link between Clark, another Justice official and John Eastman, a conservative attorney running a parallel effort on Trump’s behalf to push states to overturn the election. And, White House phone logs that at one point listed Clark as the acting attorney general, showing how close he came to getting the position.
Much of the dramatic testimony on this Washington summer afternoon had already been detailed in dry depositions and previously released court documents. But delivered with raw emotion on Tuesday, those details landed with new gravity as some of Trump’s former top aides called out his falsehoods about the election, still sounding shocked and disdainful at what they had witnessed.
In a series of striking moments, nationally televised to millions, the damning testimony from the nation’s top law enforcement officials was the closest that the investigation has come to events that unfolded a half-century ago in the Watergate scandal.
Instead of White House tapes, there were the handwritten notes and fly-on-the-wall testimony about Oval Office conversations by Donoghue, former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen and others. Instead of President Richard M. Nixon’s White House counsel warning that there was a “cancer on the presidency,” there was an account of Trump White House Counsel Pat Cipollone saying that an effort to overturn the election was like a “murder-suicide pact” that would affect everyone involved.
And, in an echo of how Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” led to the resignations of his attorney general and deputy attorney general, Donoghue warned Trump that hundreds of Justice Department officials could resign if the president replaced his attorney general with a mid-level official who had vowed to pursue Trump’s claims.
“Suppose I do this. Suppose I replace him, Jeff Rosen, with him, Jeff Clark, what would you do?” Donoghue recalled Trump asking him. “And I said, ‘Mr. President, we resign immediately. I’m not working one minute for this guy who I just declared was completely incompetent.’”
At the center of Thursday’s hearing was the extraordinary clash set in motion by the mid-level Justice official, Clark, who had once overseen environmental litigation and then became acting head of the civil division.
After William P. Barr resigned in late December 2020 as attorney general, he was replaced by Rosen, who along with his deputy, Donoghue, testified about the numerous efforts by Trump to convince them that the election was fraudulent. When Rosen and Donoghue checked out every allegation and told Trump they…