WASHINGTON â€” The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol moved on Monday to begin contempt of Congress proceedings against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official involved in President Donald J. Trumpâ€™s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, setting a vote this week on recommending criminal charges for his refusal to cooperate with a subpoena from the panel.
The vote would be the second such confrontation between the committee and an ally of Mr. Trump since Congress began investigating the circumstances surrounding the Capitol riot, including the former presidentâ€™s attempts to subvert the election. The House voted in October to recommend that another of Mr. Trumpâ€™s associates, Stephen K. Bannon, be charged with criminal contempt of Congress for stonewalling the inquiry. A federal grand jury subsequently indicted him on two counts that could carry up to two years behind bars in total.
The House committee issued a subpoena in October seeking testimony and records from Mr. Clark. In early November, he appeared before the panel but delivered a letter from his lawyer, Harry W. MacDougald, saying that Mr. Clark would not answer substantive questions.
The letter cited attorney-client privilege protecting Mr. Clarkâ€™s conversations with Mr. Trump and argued that the former Justice Department official was â€œduty bound not to provide testimony to your committee covering information protected by the former presidentâ€™s assertion of executive privilege.â€
Mr. MacDougald also argued in the letter that Mr. Clark had nothing to do with the events of Jan. 6.
UnderstandÂ the U.S. Capitol Riot
On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.
â€œHe has informed me he worked from home that day to avoid wrestling with potential street closures to get to and from his office at Main Justice,â€ the letter said, referring to the departmentâ€™s headquarters near the National Mall. â€œNor did Mr. Clark have any responsibilities to oversee security at the Capitol or have the ability to deploy any Department of Justice personnel or resources there.â€
Neither Mr. Clark nor his lawyer responded to a request for comment on Monday.
Under federal law, any person summoned as a congressional witness who refuses to comply can face a misdemeanor charge that carries a fine of $100 to $100,000 and a jail sentence of one month to one year.
In refusing to cooperate, Mr. Bannon cited a directive that Mr. Trump sent to former aides and advisers to invoke immunity and refrain from turning over documents that might be protected under executive privilege. The former president has also sued the committee in an attempt to block the release of at least 770 pages of documents related to the Capitol riot, a case that is under consideration by a federal appeals court.
Mr. Bannon has threatened to turn the case against him into the â€œmisdemeanor from hellâ€ for the Justice Department, and in a court filing on Sunday, federal prosecutors accused him and his lawyers of making â€œextrajudicial statementsâ€ that â€œmake clear the defenseâ€™s real purpose: to abuse criminal discovery to try this case in the media rather than in court.â€
At the same time, the committee is considering what to do about a third potential witness, Mark Meadows, Mr. Trumpâ€™s former chief of staff, who has also refused to comply with a subpoena. The committee said that Mr. Meadows had refused to answer even basic questions, such as whether he was using a private cellphone to communicate on Jan. 6 and the location of his text messages from that day.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan.Â 6. Inquiry
A key issue yet untested. Donald Trumpâ€™s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the Houseâ€™s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt byÂ Mr. TrumpÂ to keep personal records secret and the indictment of Stephen K. Bannon for contempt of Congress, hereâ€™s a breakdown of executive privilege:
Mr. Clark was a little-known official at the Justice Department who repeatedly pushed his colleagues to help Mr. Trump undo his election defeat. The Senate Judiciary Committee said in a recent report that there was credible evidence that Mr. Clark had been involved in efforts to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power, citing his proposal to deliver a letter to state legislators in Georgia encouraging them to delay certification of election results.
The New York Times reported in January that Mr. Clark also discussed with Mr. Trump a plan to oust Jeffrey A. Rosen, the former acting attorney general, and wield the Justice Departmentâ€™s power to force state lawmakers in Georgia to overturn its election results. Mr. Clark denied the report, which was based on the accounts of four former Trump administration officials who asked not to be named because of fear of retaliation.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also said that Mr. Clark had recommended holding a news conference announcing that the Justice Department was investigating allegations of voter fraud, in line with Mr. Trumpâ€™s repeated demands, despite a lack of evidence of any fraud. That proposal was rejected by senior leaders in the department.
In private testimony before the Judiciary Committee, Mr. Rosen said that Mr. Clark had told him that Mr. Trump was getting ready to fire Mr. Rosen and endorse Mr. Clarkâ€™s strategy of pursuing conspiracy theories about the hacking of voting machines and fraud.
â€œWell, I donâ€™t get to be fired by someone who works for me,â€ Mr. Rosen said he told Mr. Clark.
Katie Benner contributed reporting.