WASHINGTON — Most Americans don't know Jeffrey Clark — the environmental lawyer whom former President Donald Trump wanted to take over the Justice Department to aid his effort to overturn the 2020 election.
But the House Jan. 6 committee hopes its Thursday hearing might change that.
Clark took a pretty standard path for a conservative lawyer: Harvard University, Georgetown Law, clerk for Ronald Reagan-appointed federal appeals Judge Danny Julian Boggs and a partnership at the law firm Kirkland & Ellis, with a stint in the Justice Department's environmental division during George W. Bush’s administration. His unusually long Justice Department biography even included, for some reason, details about his elementary school.
Clark's attorney didn't respond to a request for comment ahead of the hearing.
After the 2020 election, according to his fellow Republican-appointed colleagues at the Justice Department, Clark began to elicit concerns.
"What's going on with Jeff Clark?" Trump-appointed acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen recalled in an interview with the Senate Judiciary Committee. He added that Clark brought up "internet theories" about voting machines' being hacked via smart thermostats. "This is inconsistent with how I perceived him in the past."
Rosen started realizing something was "off-kilter," that "something odd was going on with Jeff Clark," when it was learned that he had, in violation of a Justice Department rule banning contact between Justice Department officials and the White House except through proper channels, met with Trump.
"It's even more evident in hindsight, but at the time, I did think, 'He's meeting with the president and now he wants to be briefed by the DNI on thermostats?' plus the title change. Just what is going on here with Jeff Clark?" Rosen recalled. "DNI" refers to the director of national intelligence.
Thursday's Jan. 6 committee hearing will feature testimony from Rosen, former acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue and Steven Engel, the former assistant attorney general for the Office of Legal Counsel; all were appointed by Trump. All three are expected to testify about Trump's efforts to make Clark the acting attorney general and their threats to quit if he did.
At the time, William Barr had resigned as attorney general after he was unable to convince Trump the election hadn't been stolen. He was replaced by Rosen. But Trump remained displeased that the Justice Department wasn't aiding his efforts to overturn the election and, according to previous testimony, wanted to replace Rosen with Clark.
“We’re really going to look into how in the waning weeks of his administration President Trump tried to pressure the Department of Justice into helping overturn the 2020 election,” a committee aide said ahead of the hearing.
“We’ve taken a look at the pressure campaign and the pressure campaign against the vice president. Now we’re turning to the DOJ. We’ll look specifically at how the president was trying to misuse the department to advance his own agenda to stay in power at the end of his term,” the aide said. “And we’ll look at how that really is different from historical precedent and how the president was using the DOJ for his own personal means.”
Previous testimony indicates Clark was a true believer who was convinced the election had been stolen. To his colleagues at the Justice Department, according to the testimony, he was the butt of the joke, a guy who — in spite of his education — lacked the ability to discern fact from fiction on the World Wide Web.
Donoghue, during a particularly intense showdown in the Oval Office with Trump that Rosen, Engel and Clark attended, insulted Clark's credentials, according to testimony Donoghue gave.
“I made the point that Jeff Clark is not even competent to serve as the Attorney General. He’s never been a criminal attorney. He’s never conducted a criminal investigation in his life. He’s never been in front of a grand jury, much less a trial jury," Donoghue told the committee last year. “You’re an environmental lawyer. How about you go back to your office, and we’ll call you when there’s an oil spill.”
Engel, Donoghue said in his Senate Judiciary interview, told Trump that everyone at the Justice Department would quit if he elevated Clark and that "Jeff Clark will be leading a graveyard."
Clark, who was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 committee in October, refused to answer questions during a deposition. The committee recommended contempt charges but then backed off when it set up another interview with Clark. Clark was reported to have invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 100 times when he testified again in February, according to CNN.
Clark has continued to be a presence in MAGA world. He has an account with a few hundred followers on Truth Social, Trump’s social media platform, where his Trump-mimicking handle is @RealJeffClark.
He has said the Jan. 6 committee is “power drunk and unconstitutional,” and he has shared stories from the conspiracy website Gateway Pundit, including a story about the debunked propaganda movie “2000 Mules.” He has written for the conspiracy website Revolver News about what he described as efforts to “Kill All the Trump Lawyers — By Canceling Them.” He's making appearances on Steve Bannon's "War Room" podcast. And he's trying to raise money, telling would-be donors that he has "been targeted for cancellation by the hyper-partisan January 6 Committee, the 'mainstream' media, and a collection of leftist law professors and supposed 'Republicans' who are conveniently never-Trumpers."