WASHINGTON The House committee investigating the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol on Monday decided to initiate contempt of Congress proceedings against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official implicated in President Donald J’s efforts Trump to overturn the 2020 presidential election, securing a vote this week on recommending criminal charges for his refusal to cooperate with a panel subpoena.
The vote would be the second such confrontation between the committee and an ally of Mr. Trump since Congress began investigating the circumstances surrounding the Capitol riot, including attempts by former presidents to overturn the election. The House voted in October to recommend that another of Mr. Trumps’ associates, Stephen K. Bannon, be charged with criminal contempt of Congress for blocking the investigation. A federal grand jury later indicted him with two counts of up to two years behind bars in total.
The House committee issued a subpoena in October to request Mr. Clark’s testimony and records. In early November, he appeared before the panel but handed over a letter from his lawyer, Harry W. MacDougald, saying that Mr. Clark would not answer substantive questions.
The letter cited attorney-client privilege protecting Mr. Clarks’ conversations with Mr. Trump and claimed that the former Justice Department official was required not to testify before your committee regarding information protected by the assertion of privilege. executive by the former president.
Mr. MacDougald also argued in the letter that Mr. Clark had nothing to do with the events of January 6.
Understanding the riot at the United States Capitol
On January 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
He informed me that he was working from home that day to avoid struggling with potential street closures to get to his Main Justice office, the letter said, referring to the department’s headquarters near the National Mall. . Mr. Clark also had no responsibility for overseeing security on Capitol Hill or the ability to deploy Department of Justice personnel or resources there.
Neither Mr. Clark nor his lawyer responded to a request for comment on Monday.
Under federal law, anyone called as a Congressional witness who refuses to comply can face a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of $ 100 to $ 100,000 and jail time of up to $ 100,000. months to a year.
In refusing to cooperate, Mr Bannon cited a directive Mr Trump sent to former aides and advisers to claim immunity and refrain from handing over documents that could be protected by executive privilege. The former president also sued the committee in an attempt to block the release of at least 770 pages of documents related to the Capitol Riot, a case that is currently under review by a federal appeals court.
Mr Bannon has threatened to turn the case against him into a hellish crime for the Justice Department, and in a court filing on Sunday, federal prosecutors accused him and his lawyers of making out-of-court statements that clarify the real purpose of the defense: to abuse criminal discovery to try this case in the media rather than in court.
At the same time, the committee is considering what to do about a potential third witness, Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump’s former chief of staff, who also refused to comply with a subpoena. The committee said Mr Meadows refused to answer even basic questions, such as whether he was using a private cell phone to communicate on January 6 and the location of his text messages from that day.
Understand the claim for executive privilege in January 6. Inquiry 1 of 8
A key question as yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation into the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. In the midst of Mr. Trump’s attempt to keep personal records and the indictment of Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress a secret, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
What is executive privilege? It is a power claimed by presidents under the Constitution to prevent the other two branches of government from gaining access to certain internal executive information, particularly confidential communications involving the president or among his key associates.
What is Trump claiming? Former President Trump has filed a complaint to block the disclosure of White House records related to his actions and communications regarding the January 6 riot on Capitol Hill. He argues that these matters should be kept secret because of executive privilege.
Is Trump’s Claim for Privilege Valid? The constitutional line between the president’s powers of secrecy and the investigative authority of Congress is blurred. Although a judge has rejected Mr. Trump’s offer to keep his papers secret, it is likely that the case will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.
Is executive privilege absolute power? No. Even a legitimate claim of executive privilege may not always prevail in court. During the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Supreme Court upheld an order requiring President Richard M. Nixon to hand over his tapes from the Oval Office.
Can ex-presidents invoke executive privilege? Yes, but the courts can view their claims with less deference than those of current presidents. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruled that Nixon could claim executive privilege even if he was not in office, although the court ultimately ruled against him in the case.
Is Steve Bannon covered by executive privilege? It’s not clear. The Mr Bannons case could raise the new legal question of whether or to what extent a claim of executive privilege can extend to communications between a president and an informal adviser outside of government.
What is contempt of Congress? It is a sanction imposed on people who defy congressional subpoenas. Congress can return the contempt citations to the Justice Department and seek criminal charges. Mr. Bannon was charged with contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena for documents and testimony.
Mr Clark was a little-known Justice Department official who repeatedly pushed his colleagues to help Mr Trump reverse his electoral defeat. The Senate Judiciary Committee said in a recent report that there was credible evidence that Mr Clark had been involved in efforts to halt the peaceful transfer of power, citing his proposal to deliver a letter to state lawmakers. of Georgia encouraging them to delay the certification of the elections. results.
The New York Times reported in January that Mr. Clark also discussed with Mr. Trump a plan to oust Jeffrey A. Rosen, the former acting attorney general, and exercise the power of the Justice Department to force Georgia state lawmakers to overturn its election results. Mr Clark denied the report, which was based on accounts from four former Trump administration officials who asked not to be named for fear of reprisal.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also said Mr Clark recommended a press conference announcing that the Justice Department was investigating allegations of electoral fraud, in line with repeated requests by Mr Trump, despite the absence evidence of fraud. This proposal was rejected by senior ministry officials.
In private testimony before the Judicial Committee, Mr. Rosen said Mr. Clark told him that Mr. Trump was preparing to fire Mr. Rosen and endorse Mr. Clark’s strategy of pursuing theories of the conspiracy on voting machine hacking and fraud.
Well, I can’t be fired by someone who works for me, Mr. Rosen told Mr. Clark.
Katie Benner contributed reporting.
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