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Council January 6 lays down vote of contempt for former US DOJ official

WASHINGTON – The House committee investigating the uprising in the US Congress on January 6 voted Wednesday to pursue contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who has declined to answer the committee’s questions – but the panel agreed to let him return to try again.

The committee voted 9-0 to pursue criminal charges against Clark, who affiliated with Donald Trump before the violent attack as the then president tried to overturn his election defeat. me. Clark appeared to be impeached last month but declined to be interviewed, citing Trump’s legal effort to thwart the committee’s investigation.

6, Mississippi House of Representatives Democrat Speaker Bennie Thompson said they received last-minute notice from Clark’s attorney that he now wants to invoke his Fifth Amendment. against self-incrimination. Thompson said attorneys have presented “no concrete basis for that assertion” and “no facts have allowed the committee to consider it,” but the committee will give Clark a second chance at a hearing. The recall is scheduled for Saturday.

“In my view, this is a last resort attempt to delay the Selection Committee proceedings,” Thompson said. “However, asserting Fifth Amendment privilege is an important one. Although Mr. Clark had previously had the opportunity to make these statements on file, the Selection Committee will give him an opportunity. other guilds to do the same.”

Thompson said the committee is still conducting the contempt vote “because this is only the first step of the contempt process.”

The motion on criminal charges against Clark will now be put to the full House of Representatives for a vote, though that is expected to be delayed until after Saturday’s removal. If the House votes to decriminalize Clark, the Justice Department will then decide whether to prosecute.

Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel’s vice chair, said the committee would consider accepting Clark’s confirmation of Fifth Amendment rights if Clark said he believed the response. Questions about his interactions with Trump and others could incriminate him.

“However, it is important to note that Mr. Clark is not exempt from testifying simply because President Trump is trying to hide behind inexplicable claims of executive privilege,” Cheney said.

Trump, who told his supporters to “fight like hell” on the morning of January 6, sued to block the committee’s work and tried to assert executive privilege over the documents and interview, suggested that his private conversations and actions at the time should be shielded from public view. As the current holder of the post, President Joe Biden has so far denied Trump’s claims.

In a transcript of Clark’s aborted November 5 interview released by the panel on Tuesday, staff and members of the committee attempted to persuade the former Justice Department official to respond. questions about his role as Trump pushed the department to investigate his false allegations of widespread fraud in elections. Clark became an ally of the former president as other Justice officials pushed back against the baseless claims.

But Clark’s attorney, Harry MacDougald, said in the interview that Clark was not only protected by Trump’s assertion of executive privilege but also by a number of other privileges that MacDougald claimed that Clark should be provided grant. The committee rejected those arguments, and MacDougald and Clark walked out of the interview after about 90 minutes of discussion.

According to a report earlier this year by the Senate Judiciary Committee, which interviewed several of Clark’s colleagues, Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department culminated in a dramatic White House meeting. , where the president pondered raising Clark 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 motive for the violent mobs that stormed the Capitol and disrupted Biden’s confirmation of victory – the outcome has been met by House officials. country confirmed and the court upheld. Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, said in December 2020 that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that may have altered the outcome.

Thompson wrote in Clark’s subpoena that the commission’s investigation “revealed credible evidence that you attempted to involve the Department of Justice in an attempt to disrupt the transition of power a peaceful way” and his efforts “risk involving the Department of Justice in actions that lack substantiation and threaten to overthrow the rule of law.”

Lawmakers on the panel on January 6 vowed to hold any non-compliant witnesses in contempt as they investigate the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries. On Wednesday, Thompson said Clark had left them with no other choice.

“He chose this path,” Thompson said. “He knows the consequences he could face if he does so. This committee and the House of Representatives must be firmly held accountable in the face of that kind of defiance.”

The Justice Department has signaled that it is willing to pursue the committee’s contempt charges, pointing to longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon earlier this month on two counts of criminal contempt.

Attorney General Merrick Garland later said that Bannon’s indictment reflected the department’s “unwavering commitment” to the rule of law after Bannon completely defied subpoenas from the commission and refused to cooperate.

Clark’s case could be more complicated because he appeared to be ousted and, unlike Bannon, was a Trump administration official on Jan. 6. But committee members argued that Clark was not have grounds for refusing to be questioned, especially since they intend to ask about certain issues that do not involve direct interactions with Trump and would not fall under the former president’s statements about executive privilege.

The committee also considered seeking contempt for a third witness, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, but suspended it this week after Meadows agreed to cooperate with the panel on a limited basis. regime. The former Republican congressman from North Carolina has now provided some documents to the panel and is expected to be removed from office as soon as next week, though his attorney has said he will decline to answer questions about the matter. specific questions about his conversations with the president.

Thompson said Meadows has provided the board with documents and will be interviewed soon, but the committee “will continue to assess his compliance.”

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Associated Press writers Eric Tucker and Michael Balsamo contributed to this report.

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