Court Battles

Group asks DC court panel to investigate DOJ official who peddled false Trump election claims

A group of legal heavyweights on Tuesday asked the disciplinary panel of the D.C. Court of Appeals to investigate a former Department of Justice (DOJ) official who allegedly sought to use his official position in the federal government to overturn former President Trump’s election defeat.

In a 15-page ethics complaint, the group said former DOJ official Jeffrey Clark should face disciplinary action over his alleged attempt in late December to subvert the 2020 election result in part by proposing that he and two other top DOJ officials send letters to state leaders, including those in Georgia, making the unfounded claim that the department “identified concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states.” 

A central allegation in the complaint is that Clark’s plan amounted to an attempt to interfere with the “administration of justice” by seeking to derail Congress’s Jan. 6 certification of Biden’s win. Such tampering is prohibited by the District’s ethics rules for lawyers.

Unlike other Trump-allied attorneys, some of whom have had their law licenses suspended or been hit with court sanctions, Clark so far has faced no repercussions.

But the complaint alleges that Clark’s conduct as a DOJ official was even more egregious than that of sanctioned pro-Trump lawyers like Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell and Lin Wood, whose efforts centered on court challenges and right-wing media appearances. 

“Mr. Clark made false statements about the integrity of the election in a concerted effort to disseminate an official statement of the United States Department of Justice that the election results in multiple states were unreliable,” reads the complaint. “While his conduct mirrored that of other lawyers who have been sanctioned for false statements, they operated on a considerably more dangerous scale with commensurately greater risk to our democracy.”

An attorney for Clark, Robert Driscoll of the law firm McGlinchey Stafford, declined to provide a comment.

Led by the group Lawyers Defending American Democracy, the 32-member coalition behind Tuesday’s complaint was composed of attorneys that include former DOJ officials, past heads of the D.C. Bar and distinguished legal scholars. The group has previously filed complaints against Giuliani, Trump’s Attorney General William Barr and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (R).

Their allegations against Clark drew heavily on public reporting to illustrate his alleged role in a plot to undermine election results in Georgia and several other battleground states Trump lost. 

Clark mapped out his plan in a late December email to then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and his acting deputy, who refused to sign it, according to documents made public by ABC News.

Documents show Clark proposed that he and the two superior DOJ officials send signed letters to the governor and top state lawmakers in Georgia — and later to “each relevant state” — stating that DOJ has “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states, including the state of Georgia.”

The plan was flatly rejected by Rosen and his then-acting deputy attorney general, Richard Donoghue.

“There’s no chance that I would sign this letter or anything remotely like this,” Donoghue replied later that day in a Dec. 28 email. “The investigations I’m aware of relate to suspicions of misconduct that are of such a small scale that they simply wouldn’t impact the outcome of the Presidential Election.” 

“Barr made that clear to the public only last week, and I am not aware of intervening developments that would change that conclusion,” Donoghue continued.

Concerns about holding pro-Trump lawyers accountable for advancing baseless election claims have grown more pressing in light of fears that the 2024 presidential election could see even more sophisticated efforts to use the courts to subvert the results. Some legal ethics experts have told The Hill that appropriate punishment should include years-long suspension from legal practice or disbarment.

The ethics complaint filed Tuesday does not request a specific sanction be taken against Clark. Rather, it asks that the disciplinary counsel for the D.C. Court of Appeals initiates disciplinary proceedings and publicly acknowledges an ongoing probe if one is opened.

The group also alleges that Clark ran afoul of the District’s lawyers ethics rules that forbid dishonesty and deceit.

“To put it simply, the charge is that Clark wanted to send false statements to state officials with the goal of getting Trump declared the winner on Jan. 6,” said Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University and expert on legal ethics. “He drafted the false statements and attempted, though without success, to get his bosses to go along. That conduct if true violates the rule.”

Tags Donald Trump Rudy Giuliani William Barr

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