DOJ Lawyer Who Walked Out of Jan. 6 Panel Interview Faces Contempt Charges

The House of Representatives' January 6 U.S. Capitol insurrection panel will vote whether to pursue contempt charges against a former Department of Justice official, the Associated Press reported.

Jeffrey Clark, a former Department of Justice lawyer who allied with former President Donald Trump, could face criminal contempt if the panel approves of the charges. This potential charge comes after Clark walked out of his hearing along with his lawyer Harry MacDougald after 90 minutes. Members of the committee have previously said that they planned to hold uncooperative witnesses in contempt.

Clark had been interviewed by the committee on November 5. According to a transcript of the meeting obtained by the AP, the lawyer had pushed back on questions pertaining to Trump's unproven claims of election fraud. Instead, MacDougald said that his client was protected by the former president's assertions of executive privilege along with several other unspecified privileges. When the committee rejected those arguments, both Clark and MacDougald walked out.

Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson wrote the subpoena for Clark's appearance in front of the committee. After the lawyer refused to answer questions, chairman 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."

The January 6 committee has already subpoenaed more than 40 witnesses, along with having interviewed more than 150 people potentially involved in the encouragement of the insurrection. If passed by the committee, the House could be able to vote on holding Clark in contempt as early as Thursday, with the Justice Department able to decide whether or not to prosecute him after that.

For more reporting from The Associated Press, see below.

Jeffrey Clark Contempt
The House panel investigating the Janurary 6, 2021, U.S. Capitol insurrection will vote on pursuing contempt charges against Clark December 1 as the committee aggressively seeks to gain answers about the violent attack by former President Donald Trump's supporters. Above, 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, October 21, 2020. Yuri Gripas/Pool via AP, File

The vote to pursue charges against Clark comes as Trump's top aide at the time, chief of staff Mark Meadows, has agreed to cooperate with the panel on a limited basis. Clark appeared for a deposition last month but refused to answer any questions based on Trump's legal efforts to block the committee's investigation.

The Justice Department has signaled it is willing to pursue those charges, indicting longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon earlier this month on two counts of criminal contempt.

Clark's case could be more complicated since he did appear for his deposition and, unlike Bannon, was a Trump administration official on January 6. But members of the committee argued that Clark had no basis to refuse questioning, especially since they intended to ask about some matters that didn't involve direct interactions with Trump and wouldn't fall under the former president's claims of executive privilege.

Trump, who told his supporters to "fight like hell" the morning of January 6, 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. As the current officeholder, President Joe Biden has so far rejected Trump's claims.

According to a report earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed several of Clark's colleagues, Trump's pressure culminated in a dramatic White House meeting at which the president ruminated about elevating Clark to attorney general. He did not do so after several aides threatened to resign.

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, said in December 2020 that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have changed the results.

A lawyer for Meadows, George Terwilliger, said Tuesday that he was working with the committee and its staff on an accommodation that would not require Meadows to waive the executive privileges claimed by Trump or "forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress."

Terwilliger said in a statement that "we appreciate the Select Committee's openness to receiving voluntary responses on non-privileged topics." He had previously said that Meadows wouldn't comply with the panel's September subpoena because of Trump's privilege claims.

Thompson said that Meadows has provided documents to the panel and will soon sit for a deposition, but that the committee "will continue to assess his degree of compliance."

Under the agreement, Meadows could potentially decline to answer the panel's questions about his most sensitive conversations with Trump and what Trump was doing on January 6.

Still, Meadows' intention to work with the panel is a victory for the seven Democrats and two Republicans on the panel, especially as they seek interviews with lower-profile witnesses who may have important information to share.

Bennie Thompson
Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson wrote the subpoena for Clark's appearance in front of the committee. Above, U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), chair of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol, and Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA) leave after a committee meeting at Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 19, 2021, in Washington, DC. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images