The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack announced on Monday that it will vote to recommend the criminal prosecution of top former Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark after he defied a subpoena seeking his cooperation with the inquiry.
The move to pursue contempt of Congress charges against Clark reflects the select committee’s aggressive approach to warn recalcitrant witnesses against attempting to derail their investigation as Trump tried during his administration.
Members on the select committee will convene on Wednesday evening to vote on the contempt report – which is expected to be unanimous, according to a source familiar with the matter – and send it to a vote before the full House of Representatives.
The select committee issued a subpoena to Clark last month in order to understand how the Trump White House sought to co-opt officials at the justice department to stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election victory from taking place on 6 gennaio.
“We need to understand Mr Clark’s role in these efforts at the justice department and learn who was involved across the administration. The select committee expects Mr Clark to cooperate fully with our investigation,” said the chairman of the select committee, Bennie Thompson.
In targeting Clark, House investigators followed up on a Senate judiciary committee report that detailed his efforts to abuse the justice department and threaten the then acting attorney general, Jeffrey Rosen, to support Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 elezione.
The Senate report found Clark had conversations with Trump about how to upend the election, and pressured his superiors to draft a letter that falsely claimed the justice department had identified “significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election”.
The report also detailed a 2 January episode where Clark seemed to blackmail Rosen, suggesting that Trump could fire Rosen if he refused to do the former president’s bidding, and then said he would decline to replace him as attorney general if he sent the letter.
Clark, citing executive and attorney-client privilege, refused to turn over documents demanded by the subpoena and declined to answer questions at his deposition, instead delivering a 12-page letter from his attorney defending his decision to not testify.
The attorney, Harry MacDougald, said in the letter that Clark would not testify at least until the courts resolved a separate lawsuit brought by Trump challenging the select committee’s request to review documents from his administration held by the National Archives.
“He is duty-bound not to provide testimony to your committee covering information protected by the former president’s assertion of executive privilege,” MacDougald said of Clark in the letter. “Mr Clark cannot answer deposition questions at this time.”
But the Biden White House has declined to invoke executive privilege for matters involving the Capitol attack in most cases, and White House counsel Dana Remus has waived the protection for Trump administration materials being sought by House investigators.
Thompson said at the time that Clark’s defiance would put him on the path towards a criminal referral – a misdemeanor charge that carries a maximum penalty of $100,000 and a 12-month jail sentence.
The move to initiate criminal contempt proceedings against Clark marks the second confrontation, after the select committee last month voted unanimously to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for ignoring his subpoena.
Bannon also cited Trump’s directive, first reported by the Guardian, for former aides and advisers to defy subpoenas and refrain from turning over documents in his refusal to cooperate with the select committee’s investigation.
Bannon was indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress by a federal grand jury earlier this month and surrendered himself to the FBI. He has pleaded not guilty and vowed to “go on the offense” against Biden and the select committee.