Jan. 6 Committee Votes to Hold Ex-Assistant A.G. in Contempt of Congress

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  • Jeffrey Clark
    American lawyer
  • Donald Trump
    Donald Trump
    45th President of the United States
SUSAN WALSH
SUSAN WALSH

The fall guys are starting to add up.

On Wednesday evening, the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection found a second person “in contempt of Congress” for refusing to answer questions: a former top Justice Department official.

This time it’s Jeffrey Clark, who served as an assistant attorney general until former President Donald Trump’s final week in office. Clark tried to use the nation’s top law enforcement body to investigate Trump’s ridiculous claims about widespread fraud in the 2020 election.

The select committee voted to find Clark "in contempt of Congress" for refusing to answer questions during his deposition on Nov. 5, when he bailed early on the all-day event after only 90 minutes. Others questioned by the committee have answered questions for hours on end, helping the panel examine who organized and inspired the violent assault on the Capitol.

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the chairman of the committee, said that Clark had simply walked out early and said, “I think that we’re done.”

According to a transcript of Clark's deposition, the former DOJ official didn't actually say that. But he and his lawyer, Harry W. MacDougald, did leave on a sour note after repeatedly refusing to engage with the committee.

"We're not answering questions today. We're not producing documents today," MacDougald said early on during the contentious session.

If you review the transcript of Clark’s deposition, Thompson said, “What you find there is contempt for Congress and the American people. Contempt for the rule of law. Contempt for the Constitution.”

Thompson said Clark was “bound by the oath” to defend the Constitution while “an all-out attack on the Constitution was underway” by Trump, who was undermining election results.

"The president was looking for ways to keep him in this effort. It appears Mr. Clark was central to that effort,” he said.

However, the committee also revealed that it would give Clark a final chance this Saturday to make good on his offer to show up to a second deposition and answer questions under oath—which he seemed willing to do as long as he could plead the Fifth Amendment and not answer certain self-incriminating questions.

Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chair of the committee, said Clark can’t dodge questions this time around “simply because President Trump is trying to hide behind inapplicable claims of executive privilege.”

This committee’s mission “is not a game,” she said.

The committee voted unanimously to recommend contempt charges against Clark. The final say is up to the House of Representatives, which will ultimately vote on whether to send the matter to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the district in Washington, D.C.

The House already did that to Stephen Bannon, the former Trump advisor who has since been indicted and is being criminally prosecuted for contempt of Congress. Bannon refused to show up for his deposition or turn over documents after he'd received a subpoena from the congressional panel.

According to a Senate Judiciary Committee report published in October, Clark was a key player in Trump's despotic plan to stay in power. The report detailed how Clark met with Trump in the Oval Office shortly before Christmas 2020 and, days later, circulated a plan to his superiors that would use the DOJ as Trump's election attack dog.

The acting attorney general and deputy attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen and Richard Donoghue, received an email on Dec. 28, 2020 from Clark that detailed a plan to have the DOJ notify state officials in Georgia that the federal agency had "taken notice" of election irregularities and would recommend a special legislative session to determine who "won the most legal votes." It was an underhanded scheme to appoint new electors and override the popular vote—something the Senate report called "a stunning distortion of DOJ’s authority."

The House committee wants to know more about Clark's role in helping Trump with his attempted power grab, a resistance to leave power that nearly threw the country into a constitutional crisis and incited the attack on the U.S. Capitol building in January.

But Thompson said the former DOJ official continues to avoid answering questions under the mistaken premise that the former president retains some sort of executive privilege after leaving office.

"He refused to offer any specific claim of privilege," Thompson said of Clark. "Instead, he hid again. And again. And again."

According to the transcript of Clark's deposition, House representatives on the committee and investigative lawyers kept asking questions, and Clark's lawyer shot back: "At some point, this devolves into badgering the witness."

"You know, my client is in a bind. He's under subpoena. And, yet, the President that he worked for has asserted executive privilege. Okay? He cannot testify under those circumstances, period," MacDougald said.

Instead, Clark and his lawyer repeatedly referred to a letter they submitted outlining how former President Trump still held some sort of power over his former employees and could assert executive privilege to keep them from testifying.

During his deposition, Clark got into a heated debate with Rep. Adam Schiff and lawyers for the committee, repeatedly denying that he was making a blanket assertion of executive privilege and refusing to answer questions—even though he would not answer any questions, citing Trump's claim of executive privilege.

For example, Clark refused to say when he first met Rep. Scott Perry, the Republican congressman who first introduced him to Trump. Clark also refused to discuss his knowledge of Georgia's election procedures. He wouldn't even answer whether he used a personal email address to conduct official DOJ business. In every instance, Clark pointed to Trump's assertion that he could still direct former employees to keep quiet about their time in his White House—a matter that's currently being reviewed by the federal appellate court in the District of Columbia.

Clark, after dodging questions for over an hour, ended the deposition by challenging the very idea that they'd reached a standstill.

"The notion that we're at an impasse is also a mischaracterization. I've repeatedly said and the letter says that the dialogue remains open," he said, according to the transcript.

Then he walked out.

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