The chair of the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack said Friday he would not rule out contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, the former Trump Department of Justice (DOJ) official implicated in the former president's efforts to forward his election fraud claims.
Rep. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonSunday shows preview: US reaffirms support for Ukraine amid threat of Russian invasion Jan. 6 committee asks Ivanka Trump to sit for interview Judge denies Trump spokesman's effort to force Jan. 6 committee to return financial records MORE (D-Miss.) made the comments after Clark largely failed to cooperate with the panel on Friday. Clark sat down with committee staff on Friday morning for a relatively brief deposition, but then refused to reappear in the afternoon.
“It’s under consideration, absolutely,” Thompson said.
“We’re disappointed he did not show back this afternoon with his attorney and we formally put him on notice that him not showing is a serious concern of the committee and we will in effect look at all our options to try and get him to come back,” Thompson told The Hill.
Photos of Clark arriving at and leaving the deposition shared by reporters for CNN and CBS suggest he sat with investigators for under two hours — a short time frame, considering how long such depositions can go on.
Thompson said that although Clark and his attorney “raised some objections” in the earlier meeting, they were supposed to reappear before the committee at 4 p.m. — but they never showed.
Clark’s testimony was sought by the committee because he was at the center of former President TrumpDonald TrumpBiden says Roe v. Wade under attack like 'never before' On student loans, Biden doesn't have an answer yet Grill company apologizes after sending meatloaf recipe on same day of rock star's death MORE’s election efforts at the DOJ.
“You proposed that the department send a letter to state legislators in Georgia and other states suggesting that they delay certification of their election results and hold a press conference announcing that the department was investigating allegations of voter fraud,” the House panel wrote in its October subpoena to Clark.
The Hill was the first to report that Clark planned to sit down with the committee Friday after splitting from his attorney just one week ago.
The committee would not comment on the content of Clark’s deposition or how cooperative he was.
A letter from Clark’s new attorney to the committee obtained by Politico on Friday suggests the former mid-level DOJ attorney had little appetite to answer the questions in the investigation.
“Mr. Clark will, of course, abide by a future judicial decision(s) appropriately governing all underlying disputes with finality, but for now he must decline to testify as a threshold matter because the President’s confidences are not his to waive,” attorney Harry MacDougald wrote in a letter to Thompson.
“Accordingly, beyond showing up today to present this letter as a sign of his respect for a committee of the House of Representatives, albeit one not formed in observance of the ordinary process of minority participation, Mr. Clark cannot answer deposition questions at this time,” the letter goes on to state.
The letter portrays Clark as a regular legal adviser to Trump — something that would be unusual for someone leading the DOJ’s civil litigation division — saying it would be “natural for a president to seek out and consult his views.”
The letter also presents a complicated argument to suggest that Clark should be covered by earlier claims of executive privilege from Trump.
It cites an Aug. 2 letter from Trump's then-attorney former Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsJan. 6 panel releases contempt report on Trump DOJ official ahead of censure vote Lobbying world Sunday shows preview: Biden administration confronts inflation spike MORE (R-Ga.) essentially advising former DOJ employees that Trump would not seek to block them from testifying with the committee. Some, including former acting deputy attorney general Richard Donoghue, already have testified.
But Clark’s lawyer suggested Trump may change his mind if the panel seeks privileged information from other officials.
Trump later sought to bar four former aides from cooperating with the committee, arguing it would violate his executive privilege — a claim the committee has flatly rejected.
And while the letter to the four aides subpoenaed by the committee is silent on Clark, his attorney claims the letter “applied with special force to Mr. Clark.”
“His refusal to answer questions about the former President’s attempt to use the Department of Justice to overturn the election is in direct contrast to his supervisors at the Department, who have come in and answered the committee’s questions on these important topics. 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,” Thompson said in a statement Friday.
“I have considered Mr. Clark’s claim of privilege and rejected it. He has a very short time to reconsider and cooperate fully. We need the information that he is withholding and we are willing to take strong measures to hold him accountable to meet his obligation.”
The letter bears resemblance to one penned by an attorney for former White House strategist Steve BannonSteve BannonSupreme Court rejects Trump's bid to shield records from Jan. 6 committee Steve Bannon's Supreme Court? Biden's new calls to action matter, as does the one yet to come MORE who was also subpoenaed by the committee and argued he would be unable to give deposition because of executive privilege claims from Trump.
Bannon, unlike Clark, failed to make any physical appearance before the committee, a move that ultimately resulted in a remarkable censure from the House as a whole, which voted to refer him to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution.
DOJ has not yet made a decision in the matter, but on Thursday the department defended the government in a suit from Trump seeking to block the committee from accessing his presidential records.
Clark has previously declined to sit with congressional investigators; he failed to cooperate with the Senate Judiciary Committee as it produced a report detailing Trump’s pressure campaign at the DOJ, including his one-time plan to install Clark as acting attorney general if high-level officials failed to act on his election claims.
That report found Clark “engaged in unauthorized investigation of allegations of voter fraud and failed to abide by the department’s policy on contacts with the White House.”
Clark’s attorney, the Atlanta-based MacDougald, previously worked alongside Sidney Powell to challenge election results in Georgia — one of the states where Clark wanted the DOJ to intervene.
— Updated at 6:30 p.m.