WASHINGTON (AP) – A House commission investigating the January 6 Capitol uprising will vote Wednesday on charges of contempt of a former Justice Department official as the committee aggressively seeks answers about the brutal attack by supporters of former President Donald Trump.
A contempt vote against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department attorney who joined Trump when he tried to reverse his election defeat, came as Trump’s top aide at the time, Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, agreed to cooperate with the commission. on a limited basis. Clark turned up to testify last month but declined to answer any questions based on Trump’s legal efforts to block the committee’s investigation.
If approved by the commission, the recommendation on charges of criminal contempt for Clark will be submitted to a vote with the full composition of the House of Representatives on Thursday. If the House of Representatives votes to disrespect Clark, the Justice Department will decide whether to open the case.
The group has vowed to aggressively seek charges against any witness who disobeys as they investigate the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries. The Justice Department has made it clear that it is ready to press charges by filing two federal contempt charges against longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon earlier this month.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said at the time that Bannon’s indictment reflected “an unwavering commitment” to the rule of law after Bannon openly challenged the committee and refused to cooperate.
Clark’s case could have been more complicated, since he did appear to testify and, unlike Bannon, was a Trump administration employee on January 6. But the committee members argued that Clark had no reason to refuse interrogation, especially since they intended to ask about questions that were not related to direct interaction with Trump and did not fall under the requirements of the former president for executive privileges.
In a transcript of an interrupted November 5 interview with Clark, released by the commission on Tuesday night, staff and committee members tried to persuade Clark to answer questions about his role as Trump pushed the Justice Department to investigate his false accusations of widespread human trafficking fraud. elections. Clarke joined the former president while other justice officials dismissed the baseless allegations.
But Clark’s lawyer Harry McDougald said during an interview that Clark was protected not only by Trump’s claims of executive privileges, but some other privileges that McDougald said Clark should be given. The committee rejected these arguments, and after about 90 minutes, McDougald and Clark left the interview.
According to a Senate Judicial Committee report released earlier this year, which interviewed several of Clark’s colleagues, Trump’s pressure culminated in a dramatic White House meeting at which the president speculated about Clark’s promotion to attorney general. He did not do so after several aides threatened to resign.
Despite Trump’s false claims about a stolen election – the primary motivation for the violent mob that stormed the Capitol and cut off Democrat Joe Biden’s victory certificate – the results were backed by government officials and backed by a court. Trump Attorney General William Barr said the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could alter the results.
Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” on the morning of January 6, filed a lawsuit to block the committee’s work and tried to defend administrative privileges over documents and interviews, arguing that his conversations and actions at the time should be covered up. from a public view.
Clark is one of more than 40 people already summoned by the committee to court. Commission Chairman Benny Thompson, Mississippi State Representative, wrote on Clark’s subpoena that the committee’s investigation “revealed credible evidence that you were trying to involve the Justice Department in efforts to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” and its efforts “risked drawing the Justice Department into action, not having an evidence base and threatening to violate the rule of law ”.
After Clark declined to answer questions, Thompson said that “it’s amazing that someone who so recently held public confidence and supported the Constitution is now hiding behind vague claims of privilege from the former president refusing to answer questions about the attack on our country. democracy and continue to attack the rule of law. ”
Meadows’ attorney George Terwilliger said on Tuesday that he continues to work with the committee and its staff on a potential deal that would not require Meadows to relinquish executive privileges claimed by Trump or “forfeit a long-standing position that Senior White Assistants cannot be forced to testify. before the Congress “.
Terwilliger said in a statement that “we appreciate the ad hoc committee’s openness to receiving voluntary responses to unprivileged topics.” He previously said that Meadows would not submit to the commission’s September agenda due to Trump’s demands for privileges.
Thompson said that Meadows had provided the committee’s papers and would soon be meeting to testify, but that the committee would “continue to assess compliance.”
According to the preliminary agreement, Meadows could potentially refuse to answer the group’s questions about his most sensitive conversations with Trump and what Trump did on January 6.
However, Meadows’ intent on working with the commission is a victory for seven Democrats and two Republicans on the committee, especially when they seek interviews with lesser-known witnesses who might have important information to share. To date, the group has summoned over 40 witnesses and interviewed over 150 people behind closed doors.
Associated Press author Eric Tucker contributed to this report.