Bill Barr’s Attempt to Corrupt EDNY May Have Saved the Republic

Almost all of the witnesses the January 6 Committee has relied on are deeply conflicted people. The same Trump attorney, Justin Clark, who allegedly coached Steve Bannon to withhold information from the Committee about communications with Rudy Giuliani and Mike Flynn appeared on video claiming to have qualms about using fake electors in states where the campaign did not have an active legal challenge. Ivanka claimed to believe Bill Barr’s claims that voter fraud couldn’t change the election, but the Committee just obtained video of her saying otherwise. And Bill Barr himself has gotten credit for fighting Trump’s false claims of voter fraud even though he spent months laying the groundwork for those claims by attacking mail-in ballots.

But yesterday’s hearing was something else.

After Liz Cheney invited watchers to imagine what it would be like to have a DOJ that required loyalty oaths from lawyers who work there — a policy that Alberto Gonzales had started to implement in the Bush-Cheney Administration — Adam Kinzinger led former Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue through a narrative about the Republican Party and the Department of Justice they might like to belong to.

The whole thing was a flashback. In May 2007, I was tipped off to cover Jim Comey’s dramatic retelling of the first DOJ effort to push back on Presidential — and Vice Presidential, from Liz Cheney’s father — pressure by threatening to quit. Only years later, I learned how little the 2004 Hospital Hero stand-off really achieved. So I’m skeptical of yesterday’s tales of heroism from the likes of Jeff Rosen and Steve Engel.

But that’s also because their record conflicts with some of the things they said.

For example, check out what Engel — someone who played an absolutely central role in Bill Barr’s corruption of the Mueller investigation, and who wrote memos that killed the hush payment investigation into Trump and attempted to kill the whistleblower complaint about Volodymyr Zelenskyy — had to say about politicization of investigations.

Kinzinger: Mr. Engel, from your perspective, why is it important to have a [White House contact] policy like Mr. Rosen just discussed?

Engel: Well, it’s critical that the Department of Justice conducts its criminal investigations free from either the reality or any appearance of political interference. And so, people can get in trouble if people at the White House are speaking with people at the Department and that’s why, the purpose of these policies, is to keep these communications as infrequent and at the highest levels as possible just to make sure that people who are less careful about it, who don’t really understand these implications, such as Mr. Clark, don’t run afoul of those contact policies.

Or consider how Special Counsels were described, as Kinzinger got the witnesses to discuss how wildly inappropriate it would have been to appoint Sidney Powell to investigate vote fraud. Here’s how Engel explained the limited times there’d be a basis to appoint one:

Kinzinger: So during your time at the Department, was there ever any basis to appoint a Special Counsel to investigate President Trump’s election fraud claims?

Engel: Well, Attorney General Barr and [inaudible] Jeffrey Rosen did appoint a Special Counsel. You would appoint a Special Counsel when the Department — when there’s a basis for an investigation, and the Department, essentially, has a conflict of interest.

Engel is presumably referring to John Durham with that initial comment. But Durham fails both of those tests: there was never a basis for an investigation, and for most of the time Durham has been Special Counsel, he’s been investigating people outside the Department that present absolutely no conflict for the Department. [Note: it’s not clear I transcribed this properly. The point remains: Rosen and Barr appointed a Special Counsel that violated this standard.]

In other words, so much of what Engel and Rosen were describing were abuses they themselves were all too happy to engage in, up until the post-election period.

Which is why I’m so interested in the role of Richard Donoghue, who moved from EDNY to Main Justice in July 2020, to be replaced by trusted Bill Barr flunkie Seth DuCharme. It happened at a time when prosecutors were prepared to indict Tom Barrack, charges that didn’t end up getting filed until a year later, after Merrick Garland and Lisa Monaco had been confirmed. The 2020 move by Barr looked just like other efforts — with Jessie Liu in DC and Geoffrey Berman in SDNY — to kill investigations by replacing the US Attorney.

That is, by all appearances, Donoghue was only the one involved in all these events in 2020 and 2021 because Barr was politicizing prosecutions, precisely what Engel claimed that DOJ, during his tenure, attempted to avoid.

That’s interesting for several reasons. First, in the context of explaining the January 3 stand-off in the White House, Donoghue described why environmental lawyer Jeffrey Clark was unqualified to be Attorney General.

Donoghue: Mr. President, you’re talking about putting a man in that seat who has never tried a criminal case. Who has never conducted a criminal investigation.

Well, neither had regulatory lawyer Jeffrey Rosen (or, for that matter, Billy Barr). That is, in explaining why Clark should not be Attorney General,  Donoghue expressed what many lawyers have likewise said about Barr, most notably during Barr’s efforts to undermine the Mike Flynn prosecution (the tail end of which Donoghue would have been part of, though DuCharme was likely a far more central player in that).

In the collective description of the showdown at the White House on January 3, it sounds like before that point, Donoghue was the first one who succeeded in beginning to talk Trump out of replacing Rosen, because it was not in Trump’s, or the country’s, interest.

Mr. President, you have a great deal to lose. And I began to explain to him what he had to lose. And what the country had to lose, and what the Department had to lose. And this was not in anyone’s best interest. That conversation went on for some time.

Donoghue also seems to have been the one to explain the impact of resignations in response to a Clark appointment.

Mr. President within 24, 48, 72 hours, you could have hundreds and hundreds of resignations of the leadership of your entire Justice Department because of your actions. What’s that going to say about you?

To be clear: Rosen would have pushed back in any case. As he described,

On the one hand, I wasn’t going to accept being fired by my subordinate, so I wanted to talk to the President directly. With regard to the reason for that, I wanted to try to convince the President not to go down the wrong path that Mr. Clark seemed to be advocating. And it wasn’t about me. There was only 17 days left in the Administration at that point. I would have been perfectly content to have either of the gentlemen on my left or right to replace me if anybody wanted to do that. But I did not want for the Department of Justice to be put in a posture where it would be doing things that were not consistent with the truth, were not consistent with its own appropriate role, or were not consistent with the Constitution.

But Rosen had already presided over capitulations to Trump in the past, including events relating to the first impeachment and setting up a system whereby Rudy Giuliani could introduce Russian-brokered disinformation targeting Joe Biden into DOJ, without exposing Rudy himself to Russian Agent charges. Repeatedly in yesterday’s hearing, I kept asking whether the outcome would have been the same if Donoghue hadn’t been there.

Plus, by all appearances, Donoghue was the one providing critical leadership in the period, including going to the Capitol to ensure it was secured.

Kinzinger: Mr. Donoghue, we know from Mr. Rosen that you helped to reconvene the Joint Session, is that correct?

Donoghue: Yes sir.

Kinzinger: We see here in a video that we’re going to play now you arriving with your security detail, to help secure the Capitol. Mr. Donoghue, thirty minutes after you arrived at the Capitol, did you lead a briefing for the Vice President?

Donoghue: I’m not sure exactly what the time frame was, but I did participate in a call and participate in a briefing with the Vice President as well as the Congressional leadership that night. Yes.

Kinzinger: Where’d you conduct that call at?

Donoghue: I was in an office, I’m not entirely sure where it was. My detail found it, because of the acoustics in the Rotunda were such that it wasn’t really conductive to having a call so they found an office, we went to that office, and I believe I participated in two phone calls, one at 1800 and one at 1900 that night, from that office.

Kinzinger: What time did you actually end up leaving the Capitol?

Donoghue: I waited until the Senate was back in session which I believe they were gaveled in a few minutes after 8PM. And once they were back in session and we were confident that the entire facility was secured and cleared — that there were no individuals hiding in closets, or under desks, that there were no IEDs or other suspicious devices left behind — I left minutes later. I was probably gone by 8:30.

Kinzinger: And Mr. Donoghue, did you ever hear from President Trump that day?

Donoghue: No. Like the AAG, the acting AG, I spoke to Pat Cipollone and Mark Meadows and the Vice President and the Congressional leadership but I never spoke to the President that day.

So it seems possible, certainly, that one of the few things that held DOJ together in this period is Donoghue, seemingly installed there as part of yet another Bill Barr plot to corrupt DOJ.

Congresswoman Cheney, who in her opening statement talked about how outrageous it was for Trump to demand that DOJ make an announcement about an investigation into voter fraud (but who voted against the first impeachment for extorting Volodymyr Zelenskyy for exactly such an announcement), ended the hearing by inviting those who had put their trust into Donald Trump to understand that he had abused that trust.

40 replies
  1. Fraud Guy says:

    I don’t know if it is heartening to hear that both sides shoot themselves in the foot, but yet sometimes good still comes of it.

  2. KMA says:

    Do you think they see the hypocrisy of their actions? I find it hard to believe they do. On one hand they were saying they weren’t an extension of the campaign, and then we hear a few minutes later they were actually calling Italy over satellite voting conspiracy theories. So they were tracking down the crazy stories, but trying to distance themselves at the same time. It must have been surreal.
    I do chuckle a little bit when I think that these extremely savvy people had to have Trump as a boss. I mean they saw Clark for what he was, I can’t imagine what they thought of the less emotionally mature man listening to Clark as if he was smarter than the rest of them. I bet it burned.

    • Rayne says:

      What bothers me about these ‘extremely savvy people’ is that none of them reminded candidate Trump or his campaign minions a candidate or campaign doesn’t order around an independent department of the executive branch. That’s what got Nixon into trouble — corrupt misuse of executive branch functions for his personal gain for the purposes of re-election.

      Candidate Trump wanted to change AGs to assure his re-election. The idea is mind boggling.

      • harpie says:

        AND TRUMP’s WH started calling CLARK the Acting AG before even speaking with ROSEN about it!

      • John federico says:

        I’ve been waiting for someone else to point out that Trump was doing all of this not as president, or rather as a lame-duck president, BUT MOSTLY as a candidate…nearly making everything a months-long violation of the toothless hatch act…

        • Rayne says:

          Yeah, that needs to be a line item on the House J6 Committee’s action items after this investigation — the Hatch Act needs real teeth.

  3. blueonred says:

    You have Engel’s response transcribed as:
    > Engel: Well, Attorney General Barr and [inaudible] Jeffrey Rosen did appoint a Special Counsel

    But my hearing of it is:
    > Engel: Well, neither Attorney General Barr nor Jeffrey Rosen did appoint a Special Counsel

    I think referring to the fact that neither appointed an SC specifically for election fraud investigations.

    [Welcome back to emptywheel. Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. This is your second user name; it may have been a while since you commented last, perhaps you’d forgotten your original username. Thanks. /~Rayne]

    • harpie says:

      NPR’s transcript has it the way blueonred heard it:

      Here’s every word from the fifth Jan. 6 committee hearing on its investigation June 23, 20227:31 PM ET

      STEVEN ENGEL: Well — well neither Attorney General Barr nor Acting Attorney General Rosen did appoint a Special Counsel. We — you would appoint the Special Counsel when the Department — when there’s a basis for an investigation and the Department essentially has a conflict of interest. It’s important to get someone who’s independent outside the Department to handle such an investigation. […]

    • xy xy says:

      And in detailing time, interesting (?) that he goes from 24 hour to PM?
      “participated in two phone calls, one at 1800 or 1900” to “I believe they were gaveled in a few minutes after 8PM”?

      • KayInMd says:

        Donoghue used both 24 hour and 12 hour time in his testimony. It was especially noticeable and jarring when he talked about his time at the Capitol, participating in calls at 1800 and 1900, but leaving at 8:00 or 8:30.

        (I think this is the nym I’ve used at this site before, but I comment rarely and haven’t been able to create a login to save a nym with)

        [You’ve used this nym at least 8 times so far, no problems. /~Rayne]

  4. Badger Robert says:

    1. The mass resignations would have tipped off responsible people, and the public, that something was going to happen on 01/06. That scared Trump.
    2. After AG Barr resigned, they seem to have all accepted that the coup was not going to work, but could lead to unlimited violence.

    • massappeal says:

      Thanks for your comment. You might be right that that’s what “scared Trump.”

      Not that it matters, but I don’t think you. First, it’s a perverse twist that Trump, who became famous nationally for saying, “You’re fired” on TV, apparently is a near-total coward when it comes to firing people in real life. He almost never does it; and he always tries to get one of his flunkies to do it first. (As happened in this case when he sent Clark(!) to ask Rosen to resign.)

      Second, Donoghue got it right. The way to get Trump to change his mind is to tell him what’s in it for him. Donoghue made the case that it would be worse *for Trump* (not the Justice Department, not the Republican party, not the nation) if Trump were to fire Rosen and appoint Clark as attorney general.

      • Winslow2 says:

        I think Trump understood, after hearing what Donoghue had to say in the Oval Office meeting, that if he went forward with the Clark plan and 100s of DOJ folks resigned, he would be left too exposed, with no one else who could credibly be blamed for the mess. And I love that he had to be told that, as president, he was the only person who could fire Clark–not even his boss, Donoghue, could do so. Trump always prefers to remain a safe distance from accountability.

        Donoghue was really impressive at the hearing. I expect he made a powerful impression on Trump.

    • BobCon says:

      “In the collective description of the showdown at the White House on January 3, it sounds like before that point, Donoghue was the first one who succeeded in beginning to talk Trump out of replacing Rosen, because it was not in Trump’s, or the country’s, interest.”

      I think an important piece of context is January 3 is also the date that the Washington Post published the letter from every former DOD secretary (including Trump’s) warning for all intents and purposes that a plot was in the works to misuse the military to interfere with the transition.

      Obviously neither that public letter nor the private warning of resignations was enough to stop Trump from trying to take over the government. But they may have forced a rapid scrambling of the plan, and I’m curious what kind of evidence may show up of that.

      It’s possible the attack on the Capitol was so heavily compartmentalized that it could be launched independently of moves at DOJ and DOD without any new planning. But it would be would be interesting to know if evidence emerges of things happening in the wake of the 1/3 pushback.

      • pdaly says:

        ” the Washington Post published the letter from every former DOD secretary (including Trump’s) warning for all intents and purposes that a plot was in the works to misuse the military to interfere with the transition.”

        Makes me think of the curious detail (that I think Rayne pointed out a while ago) of protective guards sent to military leaders’ homes when the Capitol was attacked.

    • Ginevra diBenci says:

      Respectfully, Badger Robert, it was obvious in the weeks leading up to J6 that *something* was going to happen that day; the planning on public chat rooms and comment threads was churning with specifics. I think it more likely Donoghue convinced Trump that his J6 plans would be overshadowed or swamped by negative press–not that they would be revealed.

      After all, Trump had announced them himself on Twitter: “be there, will be wild.” All he had to do after that was let his lieutenants take over and *not* jeopardize the mission by making idiot moves like installing Clark atop DOJ.

  5. Badger Robert says:

    Why didn’t the coup succeed? Why didn’t the OK and the PB take the risks of extreme violence that would have put the Mike Flynn part of the coup plan in play?

    • Rick Ryan says:

      I don’t think that’s entirely clear yet. It could be a combination of a few things.

      But one major factor was that, in their “plan”, the pretext for escalating violence was to be clashes with “antifa” protestors – who never showed. They apparently never made any contingency for the event that Trump opponents would be content to just let them rage impotently for an afternoon. One drawback of semi-successfully keeping your coup plan secret: your enemies might not show up when you need them to.

      I saw a tweet recalling that various leftist and/or anti-Trump groups were warning each other quite adamantly not to go, that it was a trap intended to supply the pretext for martial law and Trump clinging to power. Hence “semi-“successfully; it was rather obvious what they were planning, at least in broad strokes.

      Which brings me to Billy Barr: he actively, enthusiastically promoted the “antifa” lie, declaring “them” a “terror” group and such when no evidence of any particular organization or even unified motive among the protest groups was ever presented. It seemed even then a pretext for one day actually declaring martial law, or at least involving fed forces much more actively and forcefully in American cities.

      So one wonders, did Barr ultimately break from Trump because he didn’t realize exactly how far Trump was planning to go (the “antifa” saber-rattling then being “just” ratcheting up the degree of authoritarianism exercised, not actually shit-canning democracy)? Or was he actually on-board with ending the republic, just not for such an incompetent moron (the idea being that he didn’t realize just how bad Trump sucked at, you know, governing and whatnot, until working under him directly for awhile)?

      Because, I’ve got to be honest, I very much get the impression that for many of these people, it’s the second case: it wasn’t the plan they opposed so much as the individual they were doing it for.

      • Theodora30 says:

        The fact pre-Trump Barr had publicly bragged in speeches about urging Bush I to pardon all of Bush’s Iran Contra co-conspirators, a move that the Independent Counsel excoriated for “completing the coverup” I would say Barr has been OK with ending our democratic Republic for years. But what can you expect from a man wit close ties to the secretive, authoritarian Opus Dei?

        • bg says:

          And so with Opus Dei and one handmaid in control of the SC, have they actually effected a bloodless coup? Because it looks to me with the rulings this week augmenting prior piecemeal destruction of the Civil Rights Act, which I believe was passed by Congress and signed by President Johnson, that they are now picking and choosing which state/federal laws will be held and which will not. What can the Congress or President now do that will stand against this court? The Church it seems IS now the state.

  6. Thomas says:

    I found myself wondering, many times, if any of the three witnesses had been involved in Barr’s shenanigans with Stone, Flynn, Barrack, the Mueller Report, etc etc.

    They drew the line at aiding and abetting a coup. Not exactly heroes! But I’m glad they didn’t want an emperor.

    Most impressive to me was Donaghue. I wouldn’t like to discover that he was another corrupt player. Apparently, he was the first Administration official to mobilize a credible force against the mob by personally leading 500 agents from FBI, ATF and others, at the begging pleading request of Mike Pence!

    Before he did that, Pence and Pelosi had requested that all available officers from the DC Metropolitan police be re-tasked to the Capitol, but even the combined might of the Capitol police and DC Metro was no match for the unruly armed mob.

    I watched the insurrection in real time, and there was a sea change in the effort to clear the Capitol when Donaghue showed up.

    I got the feeling from the J6 hearing that Donaghue had a lot more to say about the events on J6.

    • emptywheel says:

      As noted, Engel was centrally involved. Utterly centrally involved.

      Rosen was brought in only after it was done, to replace Rosenstein.

  7. PeterS says:

    Regarding Ivanka, does accepting the absence of widespread voter fraud necessarily contradict a wish to pursue all legal remedies? It’s horribly cynical, yes, but I suspect that the law is sometimes used as a tool to obtain a deeply unfair result. As with most people, she could claim ignorance about whether all legal remedies were really exhausted by mid-December or not.

    So I read her as saying she knows her father lost but would be happy to see him win through some trickery. Which is pretty much what you’d expect from someone from that family.

  8. viget says:

    I would also like to point out that of all of them, only Donoghue was a veteran, 82nd Airborne to boot.

    He also served as a JAG too. So, it makes sense that he wasn’t going to stand for this kinda stuff. Also explains the leadership qualities on display.

    Not saying this is all gonna end well, but I think Marcy’s 100% right about what would have happened had he not been there.

    • Raven Eye says:

      Putting the information from this post together with what I observed during the hearing, Donoghue’s approach and advice to Trump is consistent with what I’ve observed in effective officers assigned to flag and general officer staffs. Good JAG officers often need to provide visions of the potential outcomes from one or more possible courses of action. They are rarely the most senior officer sitting around the table.

      • J R in WVj says:

        Yes, Graham was a JAG, but he is still Lindsey Graham, and whatever he was told on that golf course converted him into a total pawn for Trump.

        Whatever Trump wanted from Graham, Trump got.

        I have rarely so quickly and completely lost all respect for any human being than I have for Graham. Most of Trump’s hirelings I never had any respect for to begin with. Graham, for a few brief moments, seemed respectable, then like a snowflake landing on a blast furnace, it vanished.

        • GlennDexter says:

          I’ve always thought “blackmail” watching Lindsey Graham’s quick fealty to Trump so soon after his public condemnation after J6.

      • Ginevra diBenci says:

        Lindsey Graham had a (wobbly) sort of moral compass until his North Star and protector John McCain died. I have always wondered what goods Trump had on Graham to menace him with, probably in that clumsily implicit Trumpian way but possibly in a more explicit way–as he did with Brad Raffensberger.

        In a party rapidly re-radicalizing itself around issues involving sexual orientation, combined with Graham’s history as what used to be termed a “confirmed bachelor,” it may be nothing more (nor less) than that. But whatever it is it has sufficed to bring Graham back in line over and over, and I’m guessing he hates himself for it (the capitulations, if not the underlying secret).

  9. Savage Librarian says:

    Thanks for this post, Marcy. I was thinking many of these same things as I watched this hearing. The GOP laundromat is center stage and hard at work. They will never stop their endless cycle of whitewashing truth. It’s who they are. Just because they exposed a bit of their nastiest dirt doesn’t mean they will ever come clean on how they live fully in a pigsty and will gladly continue to do so. Foul.

    Donoghue does seem to be the best of the lot. And I am grateful for what he has done. But it truly is frightening that there are so many low lifes and cowards in the GOP.

    • TooLoose LeTruck says:

      No matter what the outcome here, guilty or not guilty, and no matter what happens to Trump and the top 20 or 25 rat-f*ckers in step right behind him, there will remain hundreds, if not thousands, of elected Republican office holders at all levels of government – local, state, and federal – and fervent party apparatchiks totally committed to undermining democratic ideals and replacing them with permanent one party rule.

      We’re going to be fighting this fight for years to come…

  10. FiestyBlueBird says:

    Thanks, Marcy. I guess it’s best (in a way) you continue the narrative writing here. But good God damn sweet Jesus tits Maria, there would be nobody better than you to write the Jan 6 Final Report, were its narrative destined to be everything it ought to be. But your knowledge would be radioactive. I guess emptywheel is the appropriate containment vessel for that. But accessible and viewable, at least. Thanks again. A really perceptive post.

    Sorry if this is a stupid and/or inappropriate comment. I blame the beer. I’ll shut-up and go hop on the lawnmower now. Then attend to my far too little urban prairie project. Peace.

  11. morganism says:


    declassified before he left,” Solomon said. “I’ve been public about my efforts to get my hands on them. The president gave me permission to go research those documents at the National Archives.”

    He said this work is for a narrow, targeted research project, and not on Trump’s behalf — that he is “going in as a journalist” to get documents of “great public interest.”

    “John Solomon and Kash Patel have been named NARA representatives. They will work to make available to the American people previously declassified documents that reveal a clear conspiracy to unlawfully spy on candidate and then President Donald J. Trump — by the FBI, DOJ, and others — the largest state-sponsored criminality in American history,” said Trump spokesperson Liz Harrington.

  12. bg says:

    What stuck in my mind is that I read Donoghue showed up in dirty jeans (and/or boots) and a t-shirt after being summoned by AAG to go to the WH suddenly. I did look for an actual quote, but IIRC, he was walking somewhere in DC (mall?) when this happened. I wondered about the attire. It seems odd that he would be dressed like this, but I believe that was the report. Apparently not unlike the hospital bed scene we all know about and which Marcy has referenced essentially not all as effective as we thought at the time. But he went. I’m sure it was appalling to TFG.

    • 4Emilias says:

      A nice detail, Donoghue mentioned he was wearing an Army t-shirt, which must’ve really made poor little donnie uncomfortable when a real live soldier was speaking truth to him.

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