Last week, the DC bar filed a Petition Institute Formal Disciplinary Proceedings against former Justice Department lawyer Jeffrey Clark. This is hardly the most pressing concern for the onetime Kirkland & Ellis attorney, who woke up on June 22 to the FBI knocking at his door with a warrant to size his electronic devices. But the prospect of bar sanctions on top of the rest of his legal worries isn’t exactly a plus on the old resume.
Clark’s plot to weaponize the DOJ as part of Trump’s fraudulent electors scheme has been widely reported for over a year. But the January 6 Select Committee’s June 23 public hearing laid bare his conduct for the wider public, and in the least flattering light possible. In short, Clark, an environmental lawyer who was then-acting head of the Civil Division, cooked up a Proof of Concept letter making various false allegations about fraud in the swing states to provide the Republican-dominated legislatures a pretext to re-cast the states’ electors for Trump.
The letter claimed that the Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple States, including the State of Georgia.” This was false — in fact, multiple US Attorneys on the ground in Georgia investigated the fraud claims and found them groundless. Clark also claimed that it was the position of the Department that state legislatures had the inherent constitutional authority to convene themselves to bless “alternate” slates of electors. This was in no wise the position of the DOJ, although it was certainly the position of Trump’s coup-curious campaign lawyer, John Eastman.
Perhaps most hilariously, the complaint alleged that the Justice Department found “troubling the current posture of a pending lawsuit in Fulton County” and the “litigation’s sluggish pace.” Of course, the DOJ had nothing to do with Trump’s suit against the Georgia Secretary of State, and was not “troubled” in the least. But Trump’s lawyers Cleta Mitchell and John Eastman definitely had their knickers in a twist about it. In reality, the “sluggish pace” had nothing to do with recalcitrance by the court.
As laid out succinctly in the federal suit they filed after the state case bottomed out, Trump’s lawyers withdrew their request for an emergency injunction on December 8, 2020, then immediately filed appeals with multiple courts, which meant they couldn’t get a trial judge assigned to the case. It took them three weeks to get their screw-up sorted out, which they then pointed to as evidence of a dastardly plot. One would think that someone nominally in charge of the Civil Division would be able to work this out, and, more to the point, would have the integrity not to go off making half-cocked insinuations. One would be wrong.
Clark’s plan to greenlight the Republican-dominated legislatures in swing states to claw back Biden’s electors never got off the ground. Acting AG Jeffrey Rosen and his principal deputy Richard Donoghue refused to sign the letter, and Trump was dissuaded from making Clark acting AG by the threat of mass resignations at the White House Counsel’s Office and the DOJ.
But a back-handed attempted coup by someone who’s so far gone that he believes the election was stolen by dint of Chinese thermostats is still a coup attemptand the DC bar isn’t about to let bygones be bygones. Citing evidence added by Congress, Hamilton P. Fox, III, Disciplinary Counsel writes that Clark violated Rule 8.4 of the District of Columbia Rules of Professional Conduct by attempting to engage in conduct involving dishonesty, by sending the Proof of Concept letter containing false statements, and which would seriously interfere with the administration of justice.
But Jeff Clark has an answer for that!
Just kidding! He’s far too busy railing against efforts to expand ballot access right now. But Rachel Semmel, comms director at Clark’s current employer, the rightwing Center for Renewing America, had bile to spew — and it was even on point.
“This is the latest attack on legal qualifications of 1 of the only lawyers at the DOJ who had the interests of the American people at heart,” she tweeted.
Semmel went on to call Clark “an American hero,” adding that “the media sure seems to enjoy being the press sec for the J6 cmte” and “the DC bar is corrupt and openly lying and going after perceived political opponents.”
Right. Well … good luck with all that.
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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