In late December 2020, as Trump flailed about wildly trying to contest his election loss, Clark served as a would-be saboteur inside the Justice Department. According to ABC News, Clark drafted a bogus letter claiming that the Justice Department had identified “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.”
This was, of course, pure nonsense. The Justice Department had no evidence to support these purported “significant concerns” about election fraud, and none has emerged since then.
Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue, placing truth and duty to the public over blind loyalty to Trump, refused to send Clark’s false missive. Donoghue put it bluntly, emailing Clark that there was “no chance” he would send the letter and that “this is not even in the realm of possibility.”
The committee subpoenaed Clark who, in turn, stonewalled. He reportedly refused to answer the committee’s questions based on hazy, absurd invocations of privileges that simply do not apply, including executive privilege and attorney-client privilege.
Both claims are easily disposed of. First, attorneys for Trump already have stated in writing that Trump will not invoke executive privilege as to Clark or other key Justice Department officials. And attorney-client privilege plainly does not apply here, either; Justice Department lawyers represent the United States, and not the president individually.
For all the bogus claims he has made to avoid testifying, Clark failed to raise his one viable legal escape hatch: His Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. Clark has every right to take the Fifth, and he’d be well-advised to do so.
While there’s no particular, overt sign that the Justice Department has opened a criminal investigation, Clark can and should face exposure for potential federal crimes, including conspiring or attempting to deprive a state of a fair and impartial election, election interference by federal administrative officials, coercion of political activity, and conspiracy to defraud the United States.
The committee’s chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, talked tough — appropriately — after Clark’s ridiculous display. “He has a very short time to reconsider and cooperate fully,” Thompson said. “We need the information that he is withholding and we are willing to take strong measures to hold him accountable to meet his obligation.”
Thompson is right — it’s time for accountability. First, the committee ought to recommend that Clark be held in contempt. The full House should then quickly follow, as it did in October when it voted to hold another defiant witness, Steve Bannon, in contempt.
The House must then refer Clark over to the Justice Department — his former employer, it’s worth noting — for consideration of potential criminal charges for contempt of Congress. At this moment, the DOJ has still not decided whether to charge Bannon, but the decision in both cases is exceedingly easy. Both Clark and Bannon flagrantly defied the committee’s legitimate requests for information, without legitimate legal justification. Criminal charges are appropriate and necessary.
Both the committee and the Justice Department — in particular, Attorney General Merrick Garland, who almost certainly will have the final say on whether to bring criminal charges — have an important job to do here.
If they fail, then the message will come through clearly: key witnesses can cover up for Trump and defy the committee without meaningful consequence. And, if that happens, the committee will never get the full story behind January 6.