For a moment, in early January 2021, it seemed as if Jeffrey Clark’s moment in the sun had arrived. He was about to become a major player in Washington.
All he had to do was successfully convince then-President Donald Trump to install him as acting attorney general. demand then that the major Joe Biden-won states send a separate list of pro-Trump voters to Congress, thereby nullifying Biden’s Electoral College victory.
Until then, Clark, in the eyes of true Washington insiders, was a schnooka comparative nobody.
It wasn’t that it was unfinished. Clark had a solid resume as a graduate of Harvard and Georgetown Law, and spent more than a decade as a partner at the law firm of Kirkland & Ellis. He was even confirmed by the Senate. In 2018, Trump nominated Clark as an assistant attorney general for the Department of Justice’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. He was confirmed on an almost partisan vote, with: opposition because of the fact that Clark, who represented BP in his private practice, was a climate science skeptic. Clark was exactly the kind of smart guy with a ceiling that molds the upper-middle class of Washington policymakers.
But law firms in Washington and bench seats in Nationals Park are chock full of low profile Republicans representing the fossil fuel industry. Fewer are those who actively tried to overturn a Democratic election and vie to be the hatchet for a outgoing president determined to stay in power.
The latter part of Clark’s resume is why this particular former bureaucrat will be given a different kind of moment in the spotlight on Thursday, when those activities will be a focus of the select committee investigating the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack.
Clark himself will not be on the witness stand. He appeared before the committee in February only when he was faced with a possible reference to contempt after refusing to answer questions during a previous impeachment. In that appearance in February he said invoked his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination more than 100 times.
Much of what we know about Clark’s actions comes from a statement by his former colleague Richard Donoghue, who was also acting assistant attorney general. Clark first approached his boss, Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen in late December 2020. Clark contacted Rosen on Dec. 28 for permission to receive a briefing on whether China could control Dominion voting machines via a smart thermostat and a draft letter to the Department of Justice to send key officials in Georgia requesting block the certification of state election results. This letter was a template that, if approved, could also be sent to other key states won by Biden. Rosen turned him down.
However, Clark then went around Rosen, straight to Trump. The official of the Ministry of Justice was connected to the then president by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA), the head of the far-right Freedom Caucus and one of Trump’s most staunch supporters on Capitol Hill.
During a dramatic Oval Office meeting with Trump, Clark and top attorneys from the Justice Department and the White House office, Clark urged the president to give him his moment in the sun.
“History is calling. This is our chance. We can make this happen,” Clark said, according to the deposition by Donoghue† Everyone else in the meeting is said to be… pushed back against Clark’s attempt to take control of the DOJ. Donoghue, along with Steve Engel, another senior DOJ official appointed by Trump, said they would step down if Trump replaced Clark with Rosen.
Donoghue, in his own words, threatened further with the specter of a mass resignation if Trump continued his plot. “And we’re not the only ones. You must understand that your entire departmental leadership will resign. … You can resign en masse among your American lawyers. And then it will trickle down from there; you could be fired across the department. And what happens if we have hundreds fired from your Justice Department within 48 hours because of your actions?”
This was echoed by White House counsel Pat Cipollone, who, according to Donoghue, said at one point in the meeting, “Well, I’m not going to stand for this, I won’t be here when it happens either.”
Donoghue said he went on to denigrate Clark’s legal capabilities, telling Trump, “Jeff Clark isn’t even qualified to serve as attorney general.” After Clark protested and insisted he was up to the task, Donoghue said he essentially told him to go home and get his shine box†
“That’s right,” Donoghue replied. ‘You are an environmental lawyer. Go back to your office and we’ll call you if there’s an oil leak.’
Finally, Trump blinked. Although he filed complaints with Rosen and Donoghue like “You guys didn’t do anything” and “Everyone says I should fire you,” he didn’t go through with his plan to elevate Clark. He announced at the end of the meeting that he would let it go. Clark’s moment was over.
Since leaving the Justice Department, Clark has joined a Trumpist think tank, the Center for Renewing America. While he is unlikely to take power anytime soon, he will be the center of attention during Thursday’s hearings. Rosen, Donoghue and Engel will all testify about Trump’s efforts to arm the DOJ to undo the 2020 election.
Questions remain about Clark’s involvement in the bid to reverse the election, such as who else the environmental lawyer worked with and the nature of his ties to Perry, which remain unresolved.
As an employee of a select committee told reporters on Wednesday, “Jeffrey Clark is certainly an important figure when it comes to the press campaign against the Justice Department.”
But despite his best efforts, Clark is unlikely to become a significant figure in history. Instead, it looks like he’ll be a minor character who made a bumbling attempt at relevance and failed.