Lawyers for the US government threatened to resign en masse as then-President Donald Trump harassed them almost daily to help reverse his 2020 election defeat, a congressional inquiry has heard.
Justice Department officials said they told Mr. Trump there was no evidence for his allegations of mass voter fraud.
Lawyers also said the president’s plan to undo his loss in key states was “a murder-suicide pact.”
The panel is investigating last year’s US Capitol riot as a coup attempt.
The House Select Committee is seeking to establish a case that Mr. Trump’s efforts to stay in power on the eve of a violent raid by a horde of his supporters on Congress on January 6, 2021 constituted unlawful conduct.
Mr Trump, a Republican, described the inquiry as a ‘kangaroo court’ designed to distract Americans from the ‘disaster’ of Democratic-led governance and soaring inflation ahead of the US mid-term election. – November mandate.
With President Joe Biden’s popularity at an all-time low, Mr Trump has indicated he could run for president again in 2024.
Thursday’s public hearing, the fifth to date, focused on a pressure campaign led by Mr Trump against the Justice Department – the federal agency that enforces US law and is supposed to be independent of the White House.
Former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen said Mr Trump contacted him “virtually every day” before the attack on the Capitol, where lawmakers were meeting to certify President Joe Biden’s election victory.
According to Rosen, Trump requested that the Justice Department simply issue a statement questioning the election results, adding “leave the rest to me and Republican congressmen.”
Mr. Rosen said he refused. “We didn’t believe they were appropriate based on the facts or the law,” he told the committee.
Former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue testified that he knocked down “the arsenal of [voter fraud] allegations” one by one in a 90-minute conversation in December 2020.
Committee member Adam Kinzinger, a Republican from Illinois, noted that Trump administration officials at one point investigated a false claim that Italian satellites transferred votes from Mr. Trump to Mr. Biden.
“This is one of the best examples of how far President Trump would go to stay in power, scouring the internet to support his conspiracy theories,” he said.
The session also heard of an explosive confrontation in the Oval Office on the night of January 3, 2021 between Mr. Trump and three senior Justice Department officials.
Mr. Trump presented a plan at the meeting to replace Mr. Rosen with a loyalist named Jeffrey Clark, an environmental lawyer, who had no relevant experience leading the department, the committee heard.
On official letterhead, Mr. Clark had written a note advising state lawmakers that Mr. Trump had narrowly lost on how to reject their election results.
Pat Cipollone, then a White House attorney, had warned that the letter would be “a murder-suicide pact”, Mr Donoghue said.
He said he, Mr. Rosen and another senior official, Steven Engel, had warned the president that there would be a mass exodus from the Justice Department if he installed Mr. Clark. Mr. Trump ultimately backed out of the plan.
The committee said Mr Clark refused to answer its questions, citing his right not to incriminate himself. Thursday’s hearing came shortly after it was reported that the FBI had raided Mr Clark’s home.
Two more public hearings will be held next month before the committee prepares a report on the Capitol attacks.
The panel cannot bring charges against the former president, but is expected to report its findings to the Justice Department.