And going by the logic of a certain former president who stood to benefit from their efforts, this would seem to reinforce that something unholy and even criminal might lie beneath the surface.
“The mob takes the Fifth,” Trump said in September 2016. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
Despite his oversimplified past view of asserting such a privilege, pleading the Fifth is not tantamount to an admission of guilt and is central to our criminal justice system and its protections for the accused and would-be accused.
At the same time, both Clark and Eastman join some rather select and, in some cases, infamous company in invoking the Fifth Amendment to avoid testifying to congressional investigators. Each has been the subject of intrigue — Clark for pushing Trump’s bogus fraud claims internally at the Justice Department and Eastman for laying out a failed plot to get Vice President Mike Pence to help overturn the election.
While there is no central repository of Fifth Amendment pleas in congressional investigations, here is a look at some most significant recent ones — along with what came later.
2017: Michael Flynn
Trump’s former national security adviser pleaded the Fifth to avoid turning over documents pertaining to his contacts with Russians in Congress’s probe of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. At the time, Congress disclosed other documents suggesting that Flynn had lied to the FBI about his contacts with Russian officials. Flynn later pleaded guilty to that crime but was pardoned by Trump.
2016: Martin Shkreli
The young former drug executive pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about having purchased a lifesaving drug and jacking up the price by 5,000 percent. The next year, he was found guilty on three of eight counts of securities fraud and later sentenced to seven years in prison.
2015: Veterans Affairs Department officials
Diana Rubens and Kimberly Graves pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about allegations that they abused their positions for jobs and perks. The two were later punished internally.
2013: Another VA official
John Sepulveda pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about spending taxpayer money on lavish conferences. Sepulveda had already resigned his post.
2013: Lois Lerner and Greg Roseman
Lerner, the IRS official who had disclosed that the agency used inappropriate criteria that allegedly resulted in the targeting of conservative groups, pleaded the Fifth in May 2013 and again in 2014. The GOP-controlled committee voted after the first instance that Lerner had waived her Fifth Amendment privilege and tried to get her to testify again. The Justice Department in 2015 declined to file charges against her, finding “no evidence that any IRS official acted on political, discriminatory, corrupt, or other inappropriate motives that would support a criminal prosecution.”
Roseman pleaded the Fifth in June 2013 over his awarding of a large contract to a company owned by a close friend.
2012: GSA scandal
2012: Fast and Furious
Patrick Cunningham, an official in the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona, pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about the gunrunning investigation during the Obama administration. No charges were ever filed, but Cunningham resigned.
2011: Solyndra executives
Two top executives for the failed solar-power company that received $500 million in federal loans pleaded the Fifth, citing a Justice Department investigation and a recent raid on company offices. CEO Brian Harrison resigned the next month. The Justice Department later opted not to pursue charges, but an inspector general found that the company’s leaders misled investigators and omitted key information.
2010: Michaele and Tareq Salahi
The couple who crashed a 2009 White House state dinner pleaded the Fifth before getting a tongue-lashing at a congressional hearing. The situation resulted in Tareq Salahi’s resignation from a Virginia tourism board and a loss of business ties, though no charges despite calls from U.S. senators to bring them.
2007: Monica Goodling
The Bush Justice Department official pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about the politically motivated firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Goodling later resigned and was granted limited immunity to testify. A later report from the Justice Department inspector general said Goodling violated the law in a systematic effort to consider political affiliations in hiring decisions. The Virginia Bar reprimanded Goodling in 2011.
2005: Mark McGwire
The former St. Louis Cardinals baseball player pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about his alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs. In 2010, he acknowledged having used PEDs, including when he broke baseball’s single-season Home Run record in 1998. McGwire faced no charges but has repeatedly been passed over for the Hall of Fame.
2004: Jack Abramoff
The infamous superlobbyist pleaded the Fifth to avoid testifying about what became one of the largest influence scandals in American political history. The Abramoff scandal arguably cost Republicans the House in 2006, after Abramoff pleaded guilty and was sentenced to more than five years in prison.
2002: Kenneth Lay
The former Enron CEO and chairman signaled he would plead the Fifth, citing “inflammatory comments” from lawmakers about him. His company had already gone bankrupt in the biggest such case in U.S. history, and he was later convicted on six counts. He died before his sentencing in 2006.