Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
In the end, it was Donald Trump who tried to steal the election. The latest congressional hearings offered ample evidence of that and further showed that it was left to a few high-ranking Trump appointees to try to persuade the former president that what he wanted to do was illegal, immoral and an affront to the Constitution they had all sworn to uphold.
There's little doubt that Trump was prepared to use all the power at his disposal to stay in power. The Jan. 6 committee hearings have been one bombshell after another, with the most damning testimony coming from Republicans. Not GOP lawmakers, most of whom remain in Trump's thrall, but from Trump's own appointees, the ones he vetted.
In some of the most stunning testimony to date, then-Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue recounted a Dec. 27 phone call in which he said he told Trump he could not change the election's outcome. The chilling response? "That's not what I'm asking you to do — I'm just asking you to say it is corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen," Donoghue testified. He added that Trump told him the Justice Department was obligated to tell people the election was corrupt and illegal, even after being informed repeatedly by his own officials that no widespread fraud existed and that Biden had won.
But Trump went further. He was preparing to appoint an obscure, unqualified environmental lawyer as U.S. attorney general. Jeffrey Clark had never tried a criminal case nor even been before a trial judge. But he had one virtue the others did not: He was willing to do Trump's bidding, including pursuing unfounded claims of voter fraud. That vaulted him over everyone else, including then-acting U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen.
Only after Rosen, Donoghue and Assistant Attorney General Steven Engel told him there would be mass resignations at Justice — including theirs — did Trump back down. (It's noteworthy that Clark's home was raided by federal agents last week as part of the Justice Department's investigation into the scheme to send fake electors to Congress and the National Archives.)
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, one of two Republicans on the panel, highlighted the gravity of Trump's request, saying, "The president wanted the top Justice Department officials to declare that the election was corrupt, even though, as he knew, there was absolutely no evidence to support that statement."
Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said the evidence clearly showed that Trump "pressured the Justice Department to act as an arm of his re-election campaign. … He hoped law enforcement officials would give the appearance of legitimacy to his lies, so he and his allies had some veneer of credibility when they told the country that the election was stolen."
In an emergency meeting days before the insurrection, Trump urged Justice Department officials to seize voting machines across the country. That request was rejected, along with countless others by the remaining officials who, thankfully, held their loyalty to the nation, the Constitution and their oath.
Whether or not the Justice Department indicts Trump is not, by any means, the sole test of whether these hearings will have been successful. What must still happen is a thorough airing of events that includes, we would note, the actions that may have led a host of Republican lawmakers to seek pre-emptive pardons.
The committee, which had expected to resume its work after the July 4th holiday recess, has unexpectedly added a hearing for Tuesday, at which it says it will review new evidence and testimony that just came in. That kind of diligence is both needed and appropriate.