The House panel investigating the violent attack on the US Capitol on Jan. 6 will vote on whether to pursue contempt charges against a former Justice Department employee on Wednesday, as the committee pushes for answers regarding the violent attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
The panel’s decision to pursue contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer who aided Trump in his attempt to reverse his election loss, comes as Trump’s senior assistant at the time, chief of staff Mark Meadows, has agreed to work with the panel on a limited basis. Last month, Clark went for a deposition but declined to answer any questions, citing Trump’s legal efforts to halt the inquiry.
The recommendation of criminal contempt proceedings against Clark, if granted by the panel, would move to the entire House for a vote as soon as Thursday. The Justice Department would determine whether or not to prosecute Clark if the House votes to hold him in contempt.
As they examine the greatest attack on the Capitol in two centuries, the panel has sworn to pursue charges against any witness who refuses to cooperate. The Justice Department has indicated that it is prepared to pursue those accusations, having indicted longtime Trump friend Steve Bannon on two federal counts of criminal contempt earlier this month.
After Bannon disobeyed the committee and refused to comply, Attorney General Merrick Garland stated that Bannon’s indictment represents the department’s “steadfast dedication” to the rule of law.
Clark’s case might be more problematic because he did show up for his deposition and, unlike Bannon, was a member of the Trump administration on Jan. 6. Members of the committee, on the other hand, claimed that Clark had no reason to deny questioning, especially given they planned to inquire about subjects that did not involve direct meetings with Trump and would not be covered by the former president’s executive privilege claims.
Staff and members of the committee attempted to persuade Clark to answer questions about his role as Trump pushed the Justice Department to investigate his false allegations of widespread election fraud, according to a transcript of Clark’s aborted Nov. 5 interview released by the panel on Tuesday evening. As other Justice officials fought back on the bogus charges, Clark allied himself with the former president.
During the interview, however, Clark’s attorney, Harry MacDougald, stated that Clark was not only shielded by Trump’s assertions of executive privilege, but also by a number of additional protections that MacDougald believes Clark should be granted. These arguments were rejected by the committee, and MacDougald and Clark left the interview after around 90 minutes.
Trump’s push culminated in a dramatic White House meeting in which the president ruminated about moving Clark to attorney general, according to a report released earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed several of Clark’s colleagues. After numerous aides threatened to resign, he did not do so.
Despite Trump’s baseless allegations about a rigged election — the major cause for the violent mob that stormed the Capitol and disrupted the certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory — state officials validated the results, and the courts affirmed them. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, had previously stated that the Justice Department had discovered no evidence of widespread fraud that might have influenced the outcome.
Trump has tried to halt the committee’s work and has attempted to establish executive privilege over documents and interviews, alleging that his discussions and actions at the time should be kept private.
Clark is one of more than 40 persons who have been summoned by the committee so far. Clark’s subpoena stated that the committee’s investigation “has revealed credible evidence that you attempted to involve the Department of Justice in efforts to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” and that his actions “risked involving the Department of Justice in actions that lacked evidentiary foundation and threatened to subvert the rule of law.”
Thompson said it was “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” after Clark refused to answer questions.
Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, said Tuesday that he was still working with the committee and its staff on a possible solution that would not require Meadows to waive Trump’s executive privileges or “forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress.”
“We welcome the Select Committee’s willingness to accepting voluntary comments on non-privileged matters,” Terwilliger said in a statement. Meadows had previously stated that he would not cooperate with the panel’s subpoena issued in September due to Trump’s claims of privilege.
Meadows has supplied papers to the panel and will be deposed shortly, according to Thompson, but the committee “will continue to examine his degree of cooperation.”
Meadows might likely refuse to answer the panel’s questions on his most private conversations with Trump and what Trump was doing on Jan. 6 under the preliminary deal.
Meadows’ willingness to cooperate with the panel is a win for the committee’s seven Democrats and two Republicans, particularly as they pursue interviews with lower-profile witnesses who may have crucial information to give. More than 40 witnesses have been summoned, and more than 150 persons have been examined behind closed doors by the panel.