Jan. 6 panel subpoenas a Trump ally who promised to pursue his election fraud claims

Oct 13, 2021
Originally published on October 14, 2021 6:45 am

Updated October 13, 2021 at 6:55 PM ET

The Democratic-led House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol issued a subpoena Wednesday for an ex-Justice Department official who had promised to pursue former President Donald Trump's false election fraud claims.

The official, Jeffrey Clark, was a key figure in a recent Senate report detailing Trump's attempts to enlist the department in his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Trump had considered replacing his acting attorney general at the time, Jeffrey Rosen, with Clark, who was in a lower-ranking position.

"The Select Committee needs to understand all the details about efforts inside the previous administration to delay the certification of the 2020 election and amplify misinformation about the election results," Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement. "We need to understand Mr. Clark's role in these efforts at the Justice Department and learn who was involved across the administration."

In a letter, the select panel is directing Clark to produce records by and to testify on Oct. 29.

Among the details from the recent Senate Judiciary Committee report, Clark had proposed delivery of a letter to Georgia state lawmakers and others to push for a delay in certifying election results, the House select committee noted. Clark also recommended holding a press conference announcing the Justice Department was investigating allegations of voter fraud despite a lack of evidence of widespread fraud.

Those plans were rejected by top leaders at the department.

Deposition days

The new subpoena comes a day before deadlines begin for four former Trump officials to appear before the committee. The panel issued its first round of subpoenas several weeks ago to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, political strategist Steve Bannon, former Trump White House deputy chief of staff for communications Dan Scavino and Kashyap Patel, who was chief of staff to former-acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller.

Bannon and Patel are due to testify Thursday, followed by Meadows and Scavino on Friday. However, it is unclear whether any of them will comply.

The committee has said Meadows and Patel are in talks with the panel. But Bannon has already said he would not be cooperating, pointing to executive privilege as a shield allowing him to skip the demands, the committee said last week.

"Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former President," a statement from Thompson and the ranking committee Republican, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said last week.

A statement issued Wednesday via Erica Knight, a spokeswoman for Patel, confirmed that talks with the panel are ongoing, but didn't say if he will ultimately testify.

"I am continuing to engage with the Committee, and placing a high priority on keeping matters confidential for safety reasons," the statement read.

Patel has received death threats after his subpoena was issued, Knight said.

Trump has directed the four former administration officials to protect certain conversations and records from the investigation as a result of executive privilege.

On Wednesday, a spokesman for Trump, Taylor Budowich, rejected reports that Trump directed the four not to comply outright with the committee's subpoenas. Rather, he directed related queries to his recent tweet saying executive privilege protects certain conversations and records from being shared with the panel.

"President Trump has instructed individuals to honor conversations and documents covered by executive privilege to the extent permissible by law," Budowich said in the Oct. 10 tweet.

The latest efforts come after the panel in recent weeks issued subpoenas for the right-wing Stop the Steal group and nearly a dozen other organizers behind the rally that preceded the deadly attack on the Capitol.

Those followed requests to dozens of social media and tech companies to preserve and turn over records, along with several federal agencies. The panel has said it has since received "thousands of pages of documents."

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A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Today marks the first deadline for four former Trump administration officials to appear before a House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. It's not clear, though, if any of the witnesses will actually show. Now, the panel is threatening to issue criminal referrals to the Justice Department for those who do not cooperate. This all comes a day after the panel issued a new subpoena for a former Trump justice official, Jeffrey Clark, who promised to look into false election fraud allegations. For more on this, we're joined now by NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Claudia, so these Trump administration officials, who are they that the committee is expecting to hear from?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Yes. These are four former officials. And they were expecting to hear from at least two of them today. That's former strategist Steve Bannon and an ex-Defense Department official, Kash Patel. They were supposed to be followed by testimony tomorrow from ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former White House aide Dan Scavino. Now, we should note this is the first test for the panel on a wave of subpoenas issued trying to investigate this January 6 attack on the Capitol.

MARTINEZ: What are those witnesses saying so far?

GRISALES: So so far, the committee is telling us that they're engaged in talks with at least Meadows and Patel so far. Now, through a spokeswoman, Patel said he's keeping matters confidential after saying he received death threats after he was served with his subpoena. So for now, his spokesperson could not confirm if he'll ultimately testify. Now, on Scavino, the committee faced a delay locating him. But he was finally served with his subpoena last week. And he says also, any reports he was trying to evade it are false. Meanwhile, Bannon, through an attorney, told the committee that he is shielded by executive privilege and will not be cooperating.

So it seems all these witnesses are in a holding pattern right now as they sort out this argument of executive privilege and whether it really does shield them from testifying before this committee. So ultimately, if that argument does not win out, the committee has threatened to move forward with criminal referrals for these former officials. That would go to the Justice Department. It could lead to fines or jail time. Or there could be other options. But it remains to be seen whether these avenues can be pursued quickly under the new Biden administration. Or they could face these protracted legal battles we've seen in the past when it comes to demands for congressional testimony.

MARTINEZ: On executive privilege, has the Biden White House said anything?

GRISALES: They have when it comes to the documents. The White House says executive privilege has not shielded these Trump-era records from being handed over to the committee so far from the National Archives. And they reiterated that stance again last night with a new letter that was released.

MARTINEZ: One more thing. The committee - tell us so why the committee wants to hear from Jeffrey Clark, the ex-DOJ official.

GRISALES: Yes. Clark was a key figure in a recent Senate report detailing Trump's attempts to enlist the department in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election of President Biden. A Senate Judiciary Committee reports that Clark had proposed delivery of a letter to Georgia state lawmakers and others to push for a delay certifying the election results there. Also, Clark recommended holding a press conference announcing the Justice Department was investigating these allegations of voter fraud, despite any evidence that such fraud was present. And of course, these plans were all rejected by top leaders at the agency. That all said, Chairman Bennie Thompson has told Clark and others that they need to understand his role in these efforts at the Justice Department. And they're now directing him to produce these records and testify by the end of the month.

MARTINEZ: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.