Two top former Justice Department officials sat for interviews with the Senate Judiciary Committee, providing detailed accounts of a tumultuous period in late December and early January during which a senior Justice Department lawyer sought to deploy the department's resources in support of false voting fraud claims by former President Donald Trump, according to a source familiar.
Richard Donoghue, the acting Deputy Attorney General at the time, and Jeffrey Rosen, the acting Attorney General at the time, put Jeffrey Clark, a Donald Trump-appointed environment law chief at the Justice Department, at the center of an extraordinary effort to help Trump undermine the election results, including by ousting his bosses who were resisting Trump, according to the source.
Rosen spoke of numerous interactions with Clark, but much of the focus of his testimony was on five episodes where Clark went out of the chain of command to push the fraud claims. That included the January 3 White House meeting where Trump had the two men vie for the attorney general's job before deciding not to replace Rosen with Clark.
Clark's attorney declined to comment to CNN.
Donoghue met with the committee for about five hours Friday while Rosen met with them for more than six hours on Saturday, the source said, adding that Rosen also sat with the Justice Department Inspector General's investigators Friday.
The New York Times was the first to report details of Rosen's meeting with the Justice Department's inspector general.
Video: Documents show how far DOJ official went to push election fraud lie (CNN)
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The committee had previously reached out to Clark for an interview, even before Rosen and Donoghue spoke with its members. His team is still in discussions with the committee, according to a person familiar with Clark.
The House select committee investigating the events of January 6 hasn't requested an interview with him yet, but Clark was in talks with the Oversight Committee to speak with them before the January 6 committee took over that work.
Three senators, Democrats Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, plus Republican Thom Tillis of North Carolina, sat for the entire Saturday session, the source said. Nine senators in total attended parts of the Rosen interview, and the questions were bipartisan.
Blumenthal said he "was struck by how close the country came to total catastrophe" after listening to the entire closed-door testimony of Rosen Saturday.
"There were some very relevant and important facts. And equally important, some good leads about where the investigation can go," Blumenthal told CNN's Manu Raju.
Both Rosen and Donoghue told the investigators that they don't know whether Clark was acting at Trump's behest or orchestrating a plot he concocted himself. The men testified that in their interactions with Trump, he didn't order them to do anything illegal and eventually accepted their advice that the Justice Department couldn't take actions to claim fraud when it had no evidence of it.
Mysteries remain about with whom Clark interacted. In testimony to the Senate, Clark's bosses spoke of Clark's discussions of interactions with Trump ally Rep. Scott Perry who he referred to as "General Perry." Perry helped Clark connect with Trump, Perry has said.