Representatives Mo Brooks, Matt Gaetz, Andy Biggs, Louie Gohmert and Scott Perry were among the Republican members of Congress who asked then-president Donald Trump to insulate them from future prosecutions by granting them presidential pardons in the days immediately following the attack on the US Capitol on January 6 last year.
Their names were revealed by the House January 6 select committee hearing on Thursday that focused on Mr Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice to assist in his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden.
Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger, the Republican select committee member who led the hearing, suggested that seeking pardons implied that his colleagues may have at least suspected they may later face prosecution.
“All I know is if you’re innocent, you’re probably not gonna go out and seek a pardon,” he said.
The select committee played videotaped excerpts from depositions of former Trump White House staffers, who described the Republican members’ efforts to obtain clemency after Mr Trump’s scheme led to an attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.
Cassidy Hutchinson, a former special assistant to the president, said Mr Gaetz and Mr Brooks had both advocated for a “blanket pardon” for members involved in a December meeting to plan for events on January 6.
“Mr Gaetz was personally pushing for a pardon and was doing so since early December,” she said in pre-recorded testimony played by the committee.
Ms Hutchinson also said that congressman Jim Jordan talked about congressional pardons but didn’t specifically ask for one. She said of Marjorie Taylor Greene: “I heard her she had asked the White House Counsel Office for a pardon.”
Former deputy White House counsel Eric Herschmann, who confirmed to the panel that Mr Gaetz asked for a pardon, added: “The general tone was, ‘we may get prosecuted because we were defensive of … the president’s positions on these things.’ ”
Mr Brooks, an Alabama Republican, requested the pardon in an 11 January 2021 email to Mr Trump’s assistant, Molly Michael, which he wrote was being sent on behalf of himself and Mr Gaetz, a Florida Republican who is reportedly under investigation for sex trafficking. Mr Gaetz has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any criminal offences.
“It is clear that deep-pocketed and vitriolic Socialist Democrats (with perhaps some liberal Republican help) are going to abuse America’s judicial system by targeting numerous Republicans with sham charges deriving from our recent fight for honest and accurate elections, and speeches related thereto, Mr Brooks wrote.
Mr Brooks added that he was recommending Mr Trump issue “general (all purpose) pardons” to all of the GOP members of the House and Senate who’d voted against certifying the 2020 election, as well as those who’d signed onto a legal brief urging the Supreme Court to throw out electoral votes from swing states won by Mr Biden.
The committee’s vice-chair, Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney, had previously alleged that others in Mr Trump’s orbit had sought pardons in the wake of the January 6 attack, including “multiple” members of Congress, during the panel’s first public hearing earlier this month.
While the identities of most of the GOP members had remained unknown until now, Ms Cheney had previously revealed that pardons were requested by Representative Scott Perry of Pennsylvania and John Eastman, the former Chapman University law professor who pressured then-vice president Mike Pence to throw out electoral votes from swing states won by Mr Biden at the 6 January 2021 joint session of Congress at which Mr Biden’s victory was to be certified.
In an email from Mr Eastman to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani sent just days after the attack, the conservative legal scholar wrote: “I’ve decided that I should be on the pardon list, if that is still in the works”.
Nick Akerman, a veteran defense attorney who served as an Assistant US Attorney in New York and as a deputy special prosecutor during Watergate, told The Independent that a request for a pardon is a strong indicator that the person requesting it knows they have broken the law.
“This is obvious evidence of someone who believes they committed a crime and is concerned about being prosecuted — an innocent person does not ask for a pardon,” he said. “A request for a pardon, when there is not even an investigation going on, is overwhelming evidence of consciousness of guilt.”
Mr Perry, who has denied asking for a pardon, figured prominently in the panel’s Thursday presentation, during which former Trump-era Justice Department officials gave evidence regarding the Pennsylvania Republican’s role in a proposal pitched to Mr Trump by Jeffrey Clark, an environmental lawyer who was then the head of the department’s civil division.
The Pennsylvania Republican had actually introduced Mr Trump to Mr Clark, who encouraged the president to sack the then-acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, and install him atop the DOJ so he could pressure state legislatures to overturn election results in their states based on claims of fraud which the department had already debunked.
After Mr Clark told Mr Rosen he was being elevated to Mr Rosen’s current job, Mr Rosen and other top Justice Department leaders confronted him and Mr Trump in a contentious Oval Office meeting.
One of the former officials who participated in the meeting, former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, described to the hearing how he and the other DOJ leaders told Mr Trump they would resign if he made Mr Clark — an environmental law specialist with no experience as a trial lawyer or prosecutor—their boss.
“I said: Mr President, I would resign immediately. I’m not working one minute for this guy [Mr Clark] who I just declared was completely incompetent.”
He said Mr Trump then turned to Steven Engel, then the head of the DOJ office of legal counsel, and asked if he, too, would resign. In response, he said Mr Engel told the president: “Absolutely I would, Mr President, you would leave me no choice.”
Mr Donoghue said he then told the president he would “lose [his] entire department leadership” if he went through with Mr Clark’s plan.
“Every single agent will walk out on you, your entire department of justice leadership will walk out within hours,” he recalled saying.
The select committee also presented evidence that Mr Trump’s own White House advisers had found that Mr Clark’s proposed actions, including launching investigations into the baseless conspiracy theories being pushed by Mr Trump and his allies and sending the letter to state legislatures urging them to overturn the election , would be illegal.
Mr Herschmann, the former deputy White House counsel, told select committee investigators Mr Clark’s plan was “asinine” and said his reaction was to tell the aspiring acting attorney general it could expose him to criminal charges.
“I said … f***ing a-hole … congratulations: You’ve just admitted your first step you’d take as attorney general would be committing a felony and violating Rule 6-c. You’re clearly the right candidate for this job,” he recalled saying.
Mr Clark, a veteran environmental lawyer who now works for a pro-Trump think tank called the Center for Renewing America, was one of numerous ex-Trump administration officials who were subpoenaed to give evidence before the select committee. He had initially resisted appearing, but when he did show up under the threat of a criminal referral for contempt of congress, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.
The hearing focusing on his conduct in the days leading up to the Capitol attack comes as the department where he once served as a senior official is now investigating him for his role in Mr Trump’s plot to remain in power against the wishes of voters.
According to multiple reports, FBI agents raided Mr Clark’s home on Wednesday pursuant to a search warrant.