Who is Jeffrey Clark? Ex-DOJ official emerged as central player in Trump’s election scheme


Washington — During its investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, the House select committee focused on former President Donald Trump’s attempt to use the Justice Department as an element of his multi-part plan to prevent the transfer of presidential power.

Crucial to that effort was a little-known Justice Department lawyer named Jeffrey Clark, who Trump wanted to install as acting attorney general before the threat of mass resignations led him to back down, the select committee found during its investigation.

Now, with the panel voting Monday to refer Trump and “others” to the Justice Department for possible prosecution over their conduct surrounding Jan. 6 and the effort to overturn the election outcome, Clark is back in the spotlight again. 

In introductory material published by the select committee Monday, investigators pinpointed Clark as an individual who “stands out as a participant” in an alleged conspiracy to defraud the United States, one of the charges the committee recommended the Justice Department pursue against the former president and others.

The panel cited evidence it gathered suggesting Clark “entered into an agreement with Trump” — one element of the conspiracy offense — that if he were appointed to helm the Justice Department, he would send a letter to state officials claiming the department believed state legislatures should convene to select new electors. 

“This was false — the Department of Justice had reached the conclusion that there was no factual basis to contend that the election was stolen,” the committee said. 

Investigators later noted that Clark and Trump were repeatedly told the department found “no evidence of significant fraud” in its investigations into such claims, but pushed to send the letter stating the Justice Department did, in fact, find voter fraud.

A referral from the select committee is symbolic, as the Justice Department will ultimately decide whether to bring any charges against Trump, Clark or any others. An attorney for Clark did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 

So who is Clark, and how did he come to play a central role in Trump’s attempt to reverse the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, as the select committee has alleged?

Clark’s legal career

Born in Philadelphia, Jeffrey Bossert Clark began his legal career as a clerk for a federal appeals court judge before becoming an associate at the firm Kirkland & Ellis, according to his Justice Department’s biography. He began working at the Justice Department in the Environment and Natural Resources Division in 2001, serving as a deputy assistant attorney general.

Clark returned to Kirkland & Ellis for several years, and then in 2017, he was nominated by Trump to be assistant attorney general of the Environment and Natural Resources Division. The Senate confirmed Clark 52 to 45 in October 2018. In September 2020, Clark became acting head of the Justice Department’s Civil Division, and he served in both roles until his resignation on Jan. 14, 2021.

“Who is Jeff Clark?” Rep. Adam Kinzinger asked during a June select committee hearing. “An environmental lawyer with no experience relevant to leading the entire Department of Justice. What was his only qualification? That he would do whatever the president wanted him to do, including overthrowing a free and fair democratic election.”

US-POLITICS-JUSTICE-EMISSIONS
Jeff Clark, assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, speaks during a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on 14, 2020.

SUSAN WALSH/POOL/AFP via Getty Images


Clark’s involvement in efforts to overturn the election results

Clark was introduced to Trump by Rep. Scott Perry, a Republican from Pennsylvania who repeated the false claims the election was stolen. 

During the June hearing focusing on the element of Trump’s attempt to stay in office involving the Justice Department, Kinzinger said Perry brought Clark to a meeting with Trump at the White House on Dec. 22, 2020, and pushed for Clark to be elevated to a high-ranking position within the department.

In a Dec. 26, 2020, message from Perry to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows obtained by the select committee, Perry urged Meadows to call Clark and wrote, “I just got off the phone with [Clark] and he explained to me why the principal deputy won’t work, especially with the FBI. They view it as not having the authority to enforce what needs to be done.”

Two days later, Perry again asked Meadows in a text, “Did you call Jeff Clark,” and then on Jan. 2, 2021, urged Meadows to “Please call me the instant you get off the phone with Jeff.”

In separate testimony to the select committee, Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, said he pushed for someone to be “put in charge of the Justice Department who isn’t frightened of what’s going to be done to their reputation.” Cassidy Hutchinson, a former close aide to Meadows, told House investigators it was Perry who wanted Clark to take the helm of the Justice Department.

Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen learned about Clark’s contact with Trump on Dec. 24, 2020, when the then-president mentioned him in a call, he told the select committee. Clark later acknowledged to Rosen that he had met with Trump in the Oval Office, a move that violated White House and Justice Department policies intended to prevent political pressure on the department, according to the select committee.

On Dec. 28, 2020, Clark drafted the letter claiming the Justice Department identified “significant concerns” that may have impacted the outcome of the election in several states, including Georgia. While initially written to the Georgia state legislature, the letter was intended to be sent to state legislatures in key states where President Biden prevailed over Trump, the select committee found.

Clark’s proposed letter also stated that the department “recommends that the Georgia General Assembly should convene” and falsely suggested that there were two competing slates of legitimate presidential electors in Georgia: one supporting Mr. Biden and one supporting Trump.

“This letter reflects an effort to use the Department of Justice to help overturn the election outcome in Georgia and elsewhere,” the committee said in its summary.

The letter echoed positions taken by Trump and John Eastman, a conservative lawyer who was the architect of a strategy for then-Vice President MIke Pence to unilaterally toss out state Electoral College votes. Documents obtained by the select committee show Clark and Eastman exchanged emails days before Jan. 6 and spoke on the phone several times between Jan. 1, 2021, and Jan. 8, 2021.

Clark’s letter sparked concern within the upper echelons of the Justice Department. Richard Donoghue, then a high-ranking Justice Department official, said sending it “would be a grave step for the department to take and it could have tremendous constitutional, political and social ramifications for the country,” according to emails obtained by the panel.

Donoghue also warned Clark that “[W]e simply do not currently have a basis to make such a statement. Despite dramatic claims to the contrary, we have not seen the type of fraud that calls into question the reported (and certified) results of the election,” according to documents obtained by the committee.

With neither Donoghue nor Rosen willing to sign Clark’s draft letter or support the false claims about the election, the committee found that Trump offered Clark the position of acting attorney general, and a White House presidential call log obtained by the select committee suggested that Clark had been appointed to the role.

The move, though, led to a contentious meeting in the Oval Office with Trump attended by Clark, Rosen, Donoghue and Steve Engel, assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel, as well as White House lawyers Pat Cipollone, Eric Herschmann and Pat Philbin.

Cipollone described Clark’s draft letter as a “murder-suicide pact” in an interview with the committee, and Donoghue confirmed to investigators that the entire leadership at the Justice Department, including himself, agreed to resign if Rosen were removed as acting attorney general. Trump then rescinded the offer to Clark to install him to lead the department, the committee found.

Congressional and federal investigations

The select committee attempted to interview Clark as part of its investigation, but he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Separate from the panel’s probe, federal law enforcement authorities searched Clark’s home in June and seized his electronic devices. A filing from a District of Columbia Bar committee indicated the search was tied to a criminal investigation into possible violations of laws related to false statements, conspiracy and obstruction of justice. 



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