Panel Sets Contempt Vote for DOJ Lawyer11/30 06:02
A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection will vote
Wednesday to hold a former Justice Department official in contempt, demanding
criminal charges against a defiant witness for a second time as lawmakers seek
answers about the violent attack.
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol
insurrection will vote Wednesday to hold a former Justice Department official
in contempt, demanding criminal charges against a defiant witness for a second
time as lawmakers seek answers about the violent attack.
The committee on Monday scheduled a vote to pursue contempt charges against
Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department lawyer who aligned with President
Donald Trump as he tried to overturn his election defeat. If approved by the
panel, the recommendation of criminal contempt charges would then go to the
full House for a vote and then to the Justice Department.
Clark appeared for a deposition Nov. 5 but told lawmakers that he would not
answer questions based partly on Trump's legal efforts to block the committee's
The vote will come as the panel is also considering contempt charges against
former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who was Trump's top aide the
day that hundreds of his supporters violently attacked the U.S. Capitol and
interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden's victory. Meadows was
subpoenaed in September but has not yet sat for an interview with the committee.
The panel has vowed to aggressively seek charges against any witness who
doesn't comply as they investigate the worst attack on the Capitol in two
centuries, and the Justice Department has signaled it is willing to pursue
those charges, indicting longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon earlier this month on
two federal counts of criminal contempt. Attorney General Merrick Garland said
then that Bannon's indictment reflects the department's "steadfast commitment"
to the rule of law after Bannon outright defied the committee and refused to
Clark's case could be more complicated since he did appear for his
deposition and, unlike Bannon, was a Trump administration official on Jan. 6.
Trump has sued to block the committee's work and has attempted to assert
executive privilege over documents and interviews, arguing that his
conversations and actions at the time should be shielded from public view.
A report issued by Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee detailed how
Clark championed Trump's efforts to undo the election results and clashed as a
result with Justice Department superiors who resisted the pressure, culminating
in a dramatic White House meeting at which Trump ruminated about elevating
Clark to attorney general. He did not do so after several aides threatened to
In a somewhat similar case, the Justice Department in 2015 declined to
prosecute former IRS official Lois Lerner on contempt of Congress charges.
Lerner delivered an opening statement at a congressional hearing in which she
denied any wrongdoing, but then refused to answer questions from lawmakers,
citing her Fifth Amendment right to not incriminate herself.
With little precedent to go on, it's unclear what the department would do in
Clark is one of more than 40 people the committee has subpoenaed so far. The
panel's chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, wrote in Clark's subpoena
that the committee's probe "has revealed credible evidence that you attempted
to involve the Department of Justice in efforts to interrupt the peaceful
transfer of power" and his efforts "risked involving the Department of Justice
in actions that lacked evidentiary foundation and threatened to subvert the
rule of law."
After Clark refused to answer questions, 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."
Lawmakers on the committee have said that they will decide as soon as this
week whether to hold Meadows in contempt, as well. Thompson said earlier this
month that the committee "won't rush the effort" to make it clear it has given
the former North Carolina congressman multiple opportunities to cooperate.
Meadows' lawyer has repeatedly made clear that he won't comply with the
September subpoena, arguing that Trump has said he will assert executive
privilege over the testimony. The committee has rejected those arguments,
especially as the White House has said that Biden would waive any privilege
over Meadows' interview and as courts have so far shot down Trump's efforts to
stop the committee from gathering information.
The House panel has argued that they have questions for Meadows and Clark,
as they did with Bannon, that do not directly involve conversations with Trump
and couldn't possibly be blocked by privilege claims.
In the committee's September subpoena, Thompson cited Meadows' efforts to
overturn Trump's defeat in the weeks prior to the insurrection and his pressure
on state officials to push the former president's false claims of widespread
Despite Trump's false claims about a stolen election -- the primary
motivation for the violent mob that broke into the Capitol and interrupted the
certification of Biden's victory -- the results were confirmed by state
officials and upheld by the courts. Trump's own attorney general, William Barr,
had said the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that
could have changed the results.