Jan. 6 Committee Threatens ‘Strong Measures’ To Force Testimony From Ex-DOJ Official Who Allegedly Backed Trump’s Fraud Claims

Jeffrey Clark — a top Trump-era Department of Justice official accused of backing dubious voter fraud allegations — reportedly declined to testify Friday to a House panel investigating the January 6 riot, prompting the committee to threaten to “hold him accountable,” as lawmakers push Trump administration officials to cooperate with a wide-reaching probe into the attack on the Capitol.

Jeff Clark speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department on September 14, 2020.

Key Facts

Clark’s lawyer told the January 6 committee on Friday his client can’t answer their questions in a deposition, Politico and other outlets reported, even though lawmakers issued a subpoena last month ordering Clark to testify and hand over records.

Clark said his communications with former President Donald Trump may be protected by both attorney-client privilege and “executive privilege,” a legal doctrine invoked by Trump that allows presidents to keep certain records confidential.

Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), the select committee’s chair, called Clark’s decision “unacceptable” and rejected what he called “vague claims of privilege” in a statement.

Thompson urged Clark to change his mind and cooperate with the probe, warning he’s “willing to take strong measures to hold him accountable to meet his obligation.”

Forbes has reached out to Clark and his attorney for comment.

What To Watch For

Thompson didn’t specify the “strong measures” he’s considering against Clark, but he told Politico a contempt of Congress citation is “on the table.” When Trump ally Steve Bannon defied the January 6 committee’s subpoena, the committee and the House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt and referred him for possible criminal charges — though any charging decisions are up to the DOJ. Congress can also file a civil lawsuit and ask a judge to force witnesses to testify, but this process is often cumbersome.

Crucial Quote

“Because former President Trump was properly entitled, while he held office, to the confidential advice of lawyers like Mr. Clark, Mr. Clark is subject to a sacred trust—one that is particularly vital to the constitutional separation of powers,” Clark’s attorney, Harry MacDougald, wrote in a letter to the January 6 committee obtained by Politico.

Chief Critic

“It’s astounding that someone who so recently held a position of public trust to uphold the Constitution would now hide behind vague claims of privilege by a former President, refuse to answer questions about an attack on our democracy, and continue an assault on the rule of law,” Thompson wrote in a statement.

In his letter, MacDougald encouraged the January 6 committee to delay its request for Clark’s testimony until a lawsuit Trump filed against the panel last month is resolved. The suit pushes back on lawmakers’ attempts to get a trove of Trump-era executive branch records, as well as the Biden administration’s decision not to withhold them, arguing those documents are protected by executive privilege and were requested in a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.”

Key Background

The January 6 committee has subpoenaed a range of Trump administration officials and outside allies, asking for information on both the Capitol riot and months of false vote-rigging allegations. In Clark’s case, the panel said it needs testimony from the former head of the DOJ’s civil division because he was ostensibly “involved in efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.” In particular, a Senate Judiciary Committee report says Clark encouraged former Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen to announce a post-election voter fraud probe, and Clark allegedly pushed the DOJ to send a letter urging state officials in Georgia — which Biden won — to “take whatever action is necessary” due to supposed voting irregularities.