The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Jeff Clark won’t talk to the Jan. 6 committee. But he’ll talk to Tucker.

Jeffrey Clark appears on “Tucker Carlson Tonight.” (Fox News)

When the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot held its first prime-time hearing two weeks ago, Fox News pointedly chose not to air it. But not only did it not air the committee hearing, it hosted Tucker Carlson’s opinion show at the same time, during which Carlson promoted misinformation about what had occurred on Jan. 6, 2021. Among his guests that evening, for example, was Darren Beattie, a former Trump administration official who promoted long-debunked or otherwise unsupported allegations about the involvement of federal agents in the riot.

It wasn’t just that Fox News was not presenting the committee’s work to its audience. It was actively misleading its audience.

On Thursday, the committee hosted its fifth hearing since it began presenting its evidence. Fox News carried the beginning of it. (That’s because the hearing began at 3 p.m. and not in prime time. At 5 p.m., Fox News cut away to its regular programming.) But rest assured: Carlson again stepped up to undercut what the network’s audience might have learned.

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He began by contrasting protests outside the White House in the late spring of 2020 with the Capitol riot, suggesting that the protests outside the White House represented an “actual insurrection” — despite their posing little threat to the White House and having no intent or path for ousting President Donald Trump from office. That this argument doesn’t hold much water isn’t the point; the point is that Carlson wants to use this sort of false equivalence to downplay what happened at the Capitol.

He then turned to his guest, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. Clark was the focal point of much of the House committee’s hearing a few hours before, thanks to his efforts to help Trump retain power despite his election loss. The committee showed evidence of a behind-the-scenes effort to have Clark appointed as acting attorney general, allowing him to press forward with allegations of wrongdoing in the presidential election in Georgia. That there was no evidence of such wrongdoing was beside the point; Clark wanted to send a letter alleging wrongdoing and get the state legislature to consider sending a slate of pro-Trump electors to Washington. Three days before the Capitol riot, the plot almost came to fruition. Only a dramatic Oval Office fight involving Trump, Clark and Clark’s superiors averted the plan.

Clark appeared during the committee hearing, on video. The committee showed footage of an interview in which Clark participated with investigators, during which he repeatedly invoked the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. The committee had also shown clips from an interview with Trump’s former attorney Eric Herschmann, in which Herschmann recalled telling Clark that, by saying he would challenge the results in Georgia, he’d “just admitted your first step or act you’d take as attorney general would be committing a felony.”

On Wednesday morning, federal law enforcement officials searched Clark’s home, confiscating a number of electronic devices. On Thursday evening, Tucker Carlson asked him to opine on the raid.

“What’s happening in Congress right now is not about ‘insurrection,’ ” Carlson said as he introduced Clark. “It’s about using the mechanics of the federal government, which you pay for, especially the intel and law enforcement agencies, to crush and silence anyone who opposes the Democratic Party and Joe Biden.” After all, he said, Clark had not committed a crime. “What he did wrong was calling for an investigation into voter fraud,” Carlson said.

Even if all Clark had done was “call for an investigation,” that’s hardly innocuous. The election had been probed and prodded myriad ways, by Clark’s own department. To call for an investigation in late December 2020 was to take a political position in support of Trump. But that’s not what Clark is understood to have done, as the committee made quite clear. He was allegedly a conduit for using the force of the Justice Department to try to effect Trump’s broader plan to replace Joe Biden electors with Donald Trump ones. He was a vehicle for subverting the election.

Clark proceeded to describe the search of his home in dire terms, saying he was not even allowed to change out of his pajamas. But, he said, he didn’t blame the agents. “What you’re talking about in terms of weaponization,” he said to Carlson, “is really about who’s pointing the agents and telling them what to do.”

He added that the search of his home was part of a “nationwide effort” that involved the presentation of subpoenas or seizure of electronic devices from several others. “That obviously requires a high level of coordination,” said a man who used to work as a senior official for the Justice Department of the United States, a well-established organization with a presence in every state.

“I just think we’re living in an era that I don’t recognize,” Clark added later. “And increasingly, Tucker, I don’t recognize the country anymore with these kinds of Stasi-like things happening.” The Stasi were the secret police in East Germany. Unlike federal law enforcement in the United States, which seeks subpoenas from judges and acts through a system with at least some accountability processes, the Stasi worked in the shadows to exercise its power — something that seems a lot more like conspiring with the president to undercut election results in Georgia than obtaining a search warrant.

Carlson didn’t ask about the allegations raised by the House committee, perhaps realizing that Clark would be unlikely to answer. But that’s by far the most charitable assumption. It’s more likely that Carlson and his audience simply didn’t care, and didn’t see Clark’s actions as anything that demanded explanation. It’s like when Fox’s Sean Hannity interviewed former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort earlier this year: Clark was there to get an attaboy from his team.

For Fox News’s most popular host, Clark was also useful as a way to push forward his narrative that the government is out to get the political right. It’s a narrative Carlson has been promoting for the entirety of Biden’s administration and is why he likes to amplify nonsense like Darren Beattie’s: he wants his viewers to fear and loathe the government.

So Carlson didn’t agree the tactics were Stasi-like, since that impugned the police. They were, instead, “Stalinist,” as he put it. In other words, blame the leaders, not law enforcement.

“At some point, somebody’s going to fight back, and it’s going to get super ugly,” Carlson said. “I pray that doesn’t happen, but I think it probably will.”

His interview with Clark ended. He teased his next segment: coronavirus vaccines might be more dangerous for men than had been suggested.