The committee said it is seeking records and testimony from Jeffrey Clark, a Trump-era Justice Department official who sought to deploy department resources to support President Donald Trump’s false claims of massive voting fraud in the 2020 election.
“The Select Committee needs to understand all the details about efforts inside the previous administration to delay the certification of the 2020 election and amplify misinformation about the election results,” committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) said in a statement. “We need to understand Mr. Clark’s role in these efforts at the Justice Department and learn who was involved across the administration. The Select Committee expects Mr. Clark to cooperate fully with our investigation.”
A lawyer for Clark declined to comment.
The committee on Wednesday also took eight hours of closed-door testimony from former acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen regarding the final days of the Trump administration, according to two people familiar with the meeting who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe the private testimony, as it also focuses on witnesses willing to voluntarily meet with the panel.
The latest activity comes as tensions over compliance with the investigation are increasing and as the committee’s plans to hold depositions this week are already facing head winds. The focus of those depositions are Stephen K. Bannon and three other Trump administration officials — former chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and Kash Patel, who was serving as chief of staff to then-acting Defense secretary Christopher Miller on Jan. 6.
Although lawmakers maintain that the deposition dates still stand for this week, it remains unclear whether any will happen.
Late Wednesday, Bannon’s lawyer sent a letter to the committee informing the panel that his client will not provide documents or testimony because of Trump’s renewed claims of executive privilege.
The letter is likely to provoke a stern response from the committee.
Bannon’s lawyer said his client will not provide information requested by the committee given ongoing objections — received as recently as Wednesday — from Trump’s lawyer, Justin Clark.
“He has directed Mr. Bannon not to produce documents or testify until the issue of executive privilege is resolved,” wrote Bannon’s lawyer, Robert Costello. He said his client’s “position is not in defiance of your committee’s subpoena.” If the executive privilege objection is resolved by the courts or a change in Trump’s position, Bannon would reconsider, Costello said, noting that his client had testified three times previously about matters concerning the former president.
Bannon was subpoenaed last month along with Meadows, Scavino and Patel. Of the four, Bannon is the only one who was not part of the administration on Jan. 6. He left his job as a top White House adviser to Trump in 2017. Several legal experts questioned whether executive privilege could shield Bannon from responding to requests for information about what happened during a period when he was not a White House employee.
Lawmakers who sit on the panel — seven Democrats, two Republicans, all appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) — said they are prepared to pursue criminal charges against witnesses like Bannon who have balked at cooperating.
“We are completely of one mind that if people refuse to respond to questions without justification that we will hold them in criminal contempt and refer them to the Justice Department,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a member of the panel, said in an interview Tuesday.
To proceed with a criminal contempt charge, the full committee must meet, which is unlikely this week, but lawmakers will probably signal their intention to proceed to seek contempt charges, said one of the people familiar with the process.
Negotiations between Clark’s legal team and the committee did not proceed as rapidly as the panel hoped, according to a person familiar with the conversations, which resulted in the subpoena being issued Wednesday.
The committee is seeking documents and a deposition by Oct. 29 from Clark, who is considered a key witness for the panel as it looks into Trump administration efforts to overturn election results and interfere with the transfer of power.
Clark, the former acting head of the DOJ’s civil division, emerged as a key player in Trump’s push to amplify his voter-fraud claims after it was reported that the two men were in close touch in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack, which was the most serious attack on the Capitol since the War of 1812.
Clark wrote and circulated a draft letter dated Dec. 28, addressed to Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) that urged officials in that state to investigate unfounded claims of fraud. The Washington Post has previously reported that in early January, Trump entertained a plan to oust Rosen as acting attorney general and replace him with Clark, who was open to pursuing Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results.
The letter sent to Clark transmitting his subpoena by the select committee Wednesday referenced the Senate Judiciary Committee’s report released last week that further illuminated Clark’s role in assisting the former president with his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Many of the questions posed to Rosen on Wednesday focused on his interactions with Clark and who among Clark’s allies were inside Justice and outside of the government, according to one of the persons familiar with the meeting.
Rosen recounted his detailed handwritten notes with the committee and walked through how DOJ deployed resources on Jan 6, pushing back against the notion that the department was slow to act that day, according to this person. The former acting attorney general testified that he spoke with all of congressional leadership on Jan. 6, along with at least one senior White House official.
The committee is in the process of constructing a comprehensive timeline, starting from the time Rosen was preparing for Jan. 6 to when Trump was considering replacing him with Clark, according to one of the persons familiar with Wednesday’s testimony.
Trump has urged his former aides not to cooperate with the committee and is asserting a claim of executive privilege to prevent the release of records from the National Archives after the Biden administration last week said it will not stand in the way of the information’s release.
Trump on Wednesday issued statements reiterating his false claims about election fraud that were echoed by his supporters when they stormed the Capitol in a violent bid to prevent lawmakers from certifying electoral-college results and declaring Joe Biden the next president.
Trump said the Jan. 6 committee should be focused on “the massive Presidential Election Fraud” instead of looking into the activities of him and his allies before and after the attack.
“If we don’t solve the Presidential Election Fraud of 2020 (which we have thoroughly and conclusively documented), Republicans will not be voting in ‘22 or ‘24,” Trump said in a statement.
No evidence of fraud that would have affected the outcome of the 2020 election has been found, and several lawsuits brought by Trump and his allies have been dismissed.
It is not clear whether Meadows, Scavino or Patel will comply with either the committee’s requests for testimony or documents, which are due at the end of this week.
Meadows and Scavino did not respond to requests for comment. Patel said he continues to “engage” with the committee but did not elaborate.
The committee previously confirmed that Patel and Meadows were “engaging” with investigators.
In the subpoenas sent last month, the committee said it expected Bannon and Patel to sit for interviews with the committee Thursday and Meadows and Scavino to do the same on Friday.
Democrat-led congressional inquiries into the Trump administration were often frustrated by legal battles over how much a sitting president and his aides had to comply with the inquiries due to issues of executive privilege and separation of powers.
But Schiff and others connected to the inquiry said they believe they now have a much better chance at forcing compliance with Trump out of office because they expect the Biden Justice Department will help them take action against people who do not cooperate with the inquiry.
In the past, congressional panels pressing for testimony have used civil contempt citations to leverage cooperation. After House approval, lawyers for the chamber can go to court seeking civil contempt penalties.
Criminal contempt charges require action by the Justice Department. During the Trump years, criminal prosecution was not seen as a practical way to proceed because the Justice Department then was considered unlikely to accept the criminal case.
With a new attorney general, Merrick Garland, in charge, things have changed. The department has indicated its interest in pursuing the Jan. 6 inquiry and cooperating with investigators. Details of Clark’s dealings with Trump were uncovered thanks to cooperation from the department, which helped pave the way for some former top Trump Justice officials to testify.
Schiff noted that the Garland-led Justice Department has allowed “us to interview top ranking and justice officials, to obtain documents from the archives — and I think that’s a very positive sign.”