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Jan. 6 panel recommends Jeffrey Clark be held in contempt, but gives him leeway

Clark might still evade contempt process depending on a deposition on Saturday

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., makes remarks during the Jan. 6 select panel’s markup of a report recommending that Jeffrey Clark be held contempt of Congress on December 1. Appearing from left are Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Thompson, Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Elaine Luria, D-Va.
Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., makes remarks during the Jan. 6 select panel’s markup of a report recommending that Jeffrey Clark be held contempt of Congress on December 1. Appearing from left are Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., Pete Aguilar, D-Calif., Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., Thompson, Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and Elaine Luria, D-Va. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Jan. 6 select committee on Wednesday recommended holding former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark in criminal contempt of Congress. However, Clark has come to an agreement with the committee to appear for another deposition and it is unclear when or if the full House would vote to hold him in contempt.

In a 9-0 vote, the panel approved the report outlining that Clark should be charged with contempt of Congress for his noncompliance with the panel’s subpoena. Clark defied the congressional subpoena by refusing to answer relevant questions at his deposition and not producing documents, according to panel members. Clark’s lawyer, Harry MacDougald, has said his client would not comply with the subpoena, asserting executive privilege claimed by former President Donald Trump. 

Clark appeared for his deposition on Nov. 5, but did not answer “pertinent questions” and ultimately, he and his lawyer left, according to a committee statement. They were asked by the committee to return later in the afternoon, but did not. When the select committee reconvened that afternoon, Rep. Zoe Lofgren said it was evident Clark did not comply with the subpoena.

“I think it’s quite clear that Mr. Clark has failed to adhere to the subpoena, the Rules of the House, the precedents in law, in statute, and is completely acting in a lawless way,” the California Democratic said.

Panel Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said he received a letter late Tuesday night from Clark’s lawyer saying he intends to claim Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Thompson added that he agreed to let Clark return for another deposition so Clark “can assert that privilege on a question-by-question basis, which is what the law requires of someone who asserts the privilege against self-incrimination.”

The committee will halt its contempt process if Clark appears and answers questions at a deposition Saturday. Thompson said “we will insist that he must appear on this Saturday.”

“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, R-Wyo., said.

If the House votes and adopts the contempt resolution, the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia at the Justice Department will decide whether Clark will be charged with the misdemeanor crime that carries a fine and a maximum of a year in jail per count.

Trump ally Stephen Bannon was indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress in November for his failure to sit for a deposition and produce records. Bannon spoke to Trump leading up to the Capitol attack, the committee said, and on a Jan. 5 podcast, predicted “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” Bannon has a status conference Dec. 7 before Judge Carl J. Nichols to discuss his trial date.

Clark, unlike Bannon, was working in the Trump administration in the time leading up to the insurrection.

The committee “believes” Clark had communications with others in the federal government, including members of Congress, concerning efforts to overturn the election results as Jan. 6 approached, according to the panel’s public statements. 

At Clark’s deposition, Cheney asked him when he first meet Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican. The New York Times reported in January that Perry introduced Trump to Clark, who was open to pursuing allegations of election fraud.

“The Select Committee expects that such testimony will be directly relevant to its report and recommendations for legislative and other action,” the resolution said of Clark’s testimony. 

Clark, a former assistant attorney general for environment and natural resources in the Trump administration, devised ways to undermine the 2020 presidential election results and interfere with the transfer of power in the time leading up to the Capitol attack, according to information the committee has gleaned through its inquiry.

Clark proposed the Justice Department send a letter to officials in Georgia and other states suggesting they investigate voter fraud allegations in special legislative sessions and consider appointing different electors. He also met with then-President Trump and White House officials to talk about ways to overturn Trump’s election loss. Trump considered making Clark acting attorney general, which never came to fruition because much of the Justice Department leadership team and the White House counsel threatened their resignations if that plan went through. 

The committee on Tuesday announced former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was cooperating with the panel, a revelation that came a day after the committee said it would move forward with contempt charges on Clark.

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