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House January 6 committee advances contempt of Congress charge against former Trump DOJ official

Trump ally faces contempt charge in January 6 probe
Trump ally faces contempt charge in January 6 probe 01:59

The select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol unanimously voted Wednesday to recommend former Trump administration official Jeffrey Clark be held in contempt of Congress for defying his subpoena.

But the vote by the nine-member panel came after Chairman Bennie Thompson revealed the panel reached an agreement with Clark's attorney to allow Clark to appear at a previously unscheduled deposition on Saturday. Clark is expected to assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, Thompson said.

"We will not finalize this contempt process if Mr. Clark genuinely cures his failure to comply with the subpoena this Saturday," vice chair Liz Cheney said Wednesday evening. "It is important to note, however, that Mr. Clark is not excused from testifying simply because President Trump is trying to hide behind inapplicable claims of executive privilege."

The Rules Committee will likely take up the contempt resolution Thursday, but the full House doesn't plan to vote on it until after Clark's scheduled deposition this weekend, according to a spokesperson for the select committee. If a majority of the House votes in favor of the measure, Clark will become the second witness in the panel's inquiry to face the specter of criminal prosecution, following former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

The committee subpoenaed Clark for his records and testimony in September, saying it believed he used his position as a high-level Justice Department official to aid former President Donald Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election. A Senate Judiciary committee report released in October said he was in contact with former President Trump in the days leading up to January 6, when Congress would conduct its formal count of the Electoral College.

Clark at the time proposed sending a letter to officials in Georgia and other states to encourage them to delay certifying their results, according to the report. The Senate committee said he also urged Justice Department leaders to hold a press conference to announce the agency would investigate allegations of voter fraud, despite a lack of evidence.

Capitol Breach Contempt
Former acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, Oct. 21, 2020. Yuri Gripas / AP

Clark did not testify before that panel. The select committee has said Clark has so far refused to produce any documents or answer any substantive questions. 

Earlier this month, Clark's attorney, Harry MacDougald, sent a letter to the select committee, contending executive privilege issues prevented his client from complying.

In a statement, Thompson slammed the argument, calling Clark's defiance "unacceptable."

"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, refuse to answer questions about an attack on our democracy, and continue an assault on the rule of law," Thompson said, adding, "As prescribed by the House Rules, I have considered Mr. Clark's claim of privilege and rejected it."

If the House votes to hold Clark in contempt, he could face criminal charges, and possibly jail time. In October, the House voted to hold Steven Bannon in contempt. A federal grand jury weeks later charged Bannon with two counts of contempt of Congress. Each count carries up to a year of jail time. 

But the legal case against Clark may prove less straight-forward than Bannon's. Though Bannon raised similar privilege issues to avoid testifying before the committee, he was not a federal official in the days leading up to the January 6 attack. Clark was.

Ahead of Wednesday's meeting, Democratic Representative Pete Aguilar of California argued Clark must nonetheless comply.

"Even executive privilege is a qualified privilege and it can be overcome with the demonstration of need," he said. "Clearly, the need is protecting democracy."

The committee has issued 45 subpoenas in its inquiry so far, spanning former Trump administration officials and allies, those involved in planning and organizing rallies on January 6, and right-wing groups. According to committee members, the vast majority of witnesses who have been subpoenaed have complied. 

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