There was no legal basis to appoint a justice department special counsel to investigate voter fraud in 2020, even though President Donald Trump demanded it, a top department official testifiThursday.
Steven Engel, who was the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which provides legal advice to the executive branch, described the saga in testimony to the Jan. 6 select committee.
“It was not legally available,” Engel said.
CNN and other news outlets reported in December 2020 that Trump had floated the idea of naming Sidney Powell as a special counsel, but that was met with significant pushback from senior White House officials. Powell is a well-known conspiracy theorist who represented former Trump adviser Michael Flynn during his criminal trial, and has promoted fantastical and false theories of massive voter fraud.
The played committee a deposition clip of Powell describing Trump’s desire to appoint her to the post.
“He asked me to be special counsel to address the election issues and to collect evidence and he was extremely frustrated with the lack of, I would call it law enforcement, by any of the government agencies that are supposed to act to protect the rule of law in our republic,” she said in the video.
Then-Attorney General Bill Barr refused to appoint a special counsel, and after Barr resigned in December 2020, Trump continued pressing top justice department officials to name a special counsel, including Barr’s successor, Jeffrey Rosen, who also refused.
“Neither Barr nor Rosen believed (a special counsel) was appropriate or necessary in this case,” Engel said.
Rep. Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican, who has been leading much of the questioning on Thursday, condemned Trump for even considering a special counsel.
“An investigation led by a special counsel would just create an illusion of legitimacy and fake cover for those who want to object” to the 2020 election, “including those who stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6,” he said.