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Jan. 6 committee prepares to hold former Trump DOJ official in criminal contempt

Then-acting assistant U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Clark speaks next to Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at a news conference at the Justice Department on Oct. 21, 2020.
Then-acting assistant U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Clark speaks next to Deputy U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen at a news conference at the Justice Department on Oct. 21, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/Pool/Reuters)
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The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol announced Monday that it will move to hold Jeffrey Clark, a top official in the Trump Justice Department, in criminal contempt for not complying with its subpoena as it seeks to force former Trump administration officials to cooperate with its inquiry.

The committee will meet Wednesday to vote to adopt a contempt report and is likely to send the resolution to the full House, which will take up the matter and is likely to then refer it to the Justice Department.

This would be the second criminal complaint the committee has pursued, and the committee could move to hold yet another witness, President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in contempt before the week is over.

Stephen K. Bannon, a former Trump White House adviser, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of contempt of Congress for defying a congressional subpoena.

The House select committee investigating the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 faces an uphill battle with former Trump administration officials. (Video: Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

Clark served as acting head of the Justice Department’s civil division at the end of the Trump administration, and he sought to use department resources to support the former president’s false claims of massive voter fraud in the 2020 election. He refused to answer questions during a closed-door interview with the committee earlier this month, after his original deposition was postponed because his attorney dropped him as a client. Clark’s attorney previously cited potential executive- and attorney-client privilege issues to justify noncompliance.

Jan. 6 insurrection: The Washington Post’s investigation

“It’s 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,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the select committee, wrote in a statement rejecting Clark’s claim of privilege.

While it’s rare for the Justice Department to bring contempt charges against government officials who refuse to comply with subpoenas, Bannon’s indictment was seen as a warning to other witnesses seeking to defy the Jan. 6 committee. Before Bannon, the last official to face such charges was Rita M. Lavelle, who was sentenced to six months in prison in 1984 after she was convicted of lying to Congress.

The Justice Department recently issued a scathing response to Bannon’s opposition to the U.S. District Court’s standard protective order for discovery, which prohibits either side from releasing documents or evidence publicly.

“The misleading and frivolous nature of the defendant’s claims of prejudice demonstrate that they are just a cover for the real reason the defendant opposes a protective order in this case and which he and his counsel have expressed in their extrajudicial statements — that the defendant wishes to have trial through the press,” the Justice Department wrote.