Thompson & Cheney Testimony at Rules Committee Meeting
- As Delivered -
Washington—Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) this morning delivered the following statements at the Rules Committee meeting on the resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find Jeffrey B. Clark in contempt of Congress:
Chairman Thompson: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Cole, Members of the Committee. I’m grateful for the opportunity to testify.
“It’s regrettable that Ms. Cheney and I must appear before you again seeking floor action on a criminal contempt referral. But other witnesses under subpoena has taken the position that he’s above the law and can simply refuse to cooperate with the Select Committee’s investigation.
“While he was an Assistant Attorney General at the Justice Department, Jeffrey Clark was reportedly at the center of efforts to spread misinformation about last year’s election and derail the peaceful transfer of power. There’s evidence that he wanted to push state legislatures to delay certification, to use the bully pulpit of the Justice Department to spread unfounded allegations about voter fraud.
“He reportedly went outside normal channels of communication to deal with the White House and the former President apparently considered installing him as Acting Attorney General.
“As the Select Committee’s report lays out, we sought out voluntary cooperation from Mr. Clark. He refused. We subpoenaed him for documents and testimony. At his deposition, he wouldn’t answer questions, he bickered with our members and counsel, and then he got up and left.
“This is unacceptable, colleagues. It’s unacceptable as we try to gather facts about the violence of January 6th. Let’s remember what the Select Committee has set out to do: provide answers to the American people about the worst attack on the legislative branch since the war of 1812, a violent attempt to halt our Constitutionally required responsibility of certifying the presidential election—and to learn everything about what led up to the day of violence.
“Standing in the way of that is unacceptable to me. And it should be unacceptable to all of us who care about the future of the House’s oversight authority. If we do not hold Mr. Clark accountable—or anyone else who refuses to cooperate—we are creating a dangerous new norm; we are undermining our own standing as a coequal branch of government.
“I want to underscore how isolated Mr. Clark is. The Select Committee has heard from more than 250 witnesses. They include two of Mr. Clark’s supervisors at the Justice Department. A former White House Chief of Staff is even cooperating with our probe.
“We’re not throwing around contempt referrals left and right. So far, the only person in the same category as Mr. Clark in terms of his defiance is Steve Bannon, who’s now under indictment.
“But Mr. Clark believes he’s protected by these sweeping claims of privilege. Executive privilege, even though the former President said he wouldn’t try to stop Mr. Clark from testifying. Attorney-client privilege, even though Mr. Clark wouldn’t say who his client is. And, as I stated last night, Mr. Clark came to us on Wednesday, through his attorney, stating that he is now claiming Fifth Amendment protection.
“Mr. Clark previously had the opportunity to make Fifth Amendment assertions on the record and declined. But a Fifth Amendment privilege assertion is very significant. So the Select Committee has agreed to provide him another chance to come in and assert that privilege on a question-by-question basis, which he’s required to do by law if he’s making such a claim. He agreed to come in and we will reconvene the deposition Saturday.
“But we cannot be delayed. The Select Committee’s work is too important. We must be ready to act quickly if Mr. Clark remains in defiance of the Select Committee’s subpoena.
“So I ask for the support of all members to advance the resolution citing Jeffrey Clark for criminal contempt of Congress and referring him to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia for prosecution. I hope this is the last time we have to come and take up a measure like this one. But I hope to be equally clear that the Select Committee will use the tools at our disposal to get to the facts.
“I thank my colleagues and I yield back, Mr. Chairman.”
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Vice Chair Cheney: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman. Thank you, Chairman Thompson and all—Ranking Member Cole, and all the members of the committee. I was very pleased to hear the Ranking Member say this morning that we need to get serious about governing. These are serious matters. They're not partisan matters. These are matters that have to do with the survival of the Republic. And so, I would urge all my colleagues on both sides of this panel to deal with them with that level of seriousness.
“Mr. Jeffrey Clark was an Assistant Attorney General. He was a Trump appointee at the Department of Justice. According to multiple sources, Clark was asked by then President Trump to take over the role of Attorney General, partly so he could issue a series of letters falsely suggesting that the Department of Justice believed the presidential election may have been stolen. Of course, this happened after the Department had repeatedly informed the President that his allegations of a stolen election were not true and were not supported by the evidence. And this happened after dozens of courts had ruled against President Trump and his election fraud claims. And this happened after the Electoral College had certified the results of the election, as our Constitution requires.
“We are a nation of laws, and our Justice Department has a solemn obligation to truth and to justice. Imagine what would have happened if all the Trump appointed leaders at the Justice Department had supported Jeffrey Clark and corruptly issued those false letters. Imagine what January 6th would have been then—an even more profound constitutional crisis.
“But Mr. Clark was not appointed. His letters were not issued. Because a group of honorable men, each appointed by Donald Trump to high positions in the Department of Justice, understood that they were bound by their higher oaths to our Constitution. They did not yield even to the president who appointed them. They faced down President Trump in the Oval Office and forcefully told him ‘No,’ they would not allow the Department of Justice to be turned into an arm of President Trump's corrupt campaign to overturn the presidential election. These brave public servants told President Trump they would resign and that virtually all the other high-level Trump appointees at the Justice Department would resign as well. According to multiple accounts, the President's White House counsel also said he would resign.
“Important details regarding all of these events remain unknown. How did this plan with Mr. Clark originate? Who else was involved? And how did it progress so far? The American people are entitled to all of these answers, and we need the full story in order to legislate effectively. But Mr. Clark has so far refused to testify.
“Now, as the Chairman noted, Mr. Clark last night indicated that he intends to invoke the Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination. Apparently, because he believes testimony about his interactions with President Trump would tend to incriminate him and thus may subject him to criminal prosecution. We will depose Mr. Clark on Saturday. And at that point, we will know exactly what testimony Clark believes may incriminate him.
“If I had asked each of you on this dais on January 6th whether we need to investigate, every one of you would have said, ‘Yes.’ You all knew what had happened was unacceptable. As my longtime friend, the Gentleman from Oklahoma, the Ranking Member of this committee has said, ‘To be clear, the shameful perpetrators of the Capitol siege must and will be held accountable for their crimes and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.’ He went on, ‘Indeed, the president must also realize that his words carry meaning and he must accept responsibility for them.’
“My friend and colleague from North Dakota, who will appear here shortly, Mr. Armstrong, said on January 6th, ‘I just walked through the Capitol on my way back to the House floor. The Capitol Police are still there—exhausted, bloodied, bandaged, some are on stretchers. They did their job today, and they did it well.’ It's not just the American public, Mr. Chairman, who deserves answers here. We owe those officers who fought selflessly for the safety of everyone in this room, a full and frank accounting of exactly what happened.
“As I have said before, it would have been preferable if Congress had formed an independent commission to investigate all of these facts. Yet as the political winds changed, many of you voted against such a commission. So, this is the investigation that we have, and the events of January 6th cannot go uninvestigated. The Select Committee will do its duty.
“Let me remind you all, Republican Leader McCarthy made the conscious choice to withdraw entirely from this committee. He could have appointed multiple Republicans to our committee, but he calculated, after objecting to the establishment of a bipartisan commission, that it would be better not to participate at all. Following that, Chairman Thompson decided that this will be a non-partisan investigation, and that is how we are proceeding.
“And we are making rapid progress. We anticipate next year, we will be conducting multiple weeks of public hearings, setting out for the American people in vivid color exactly what happened, every minute of the day on January 6th, here at the Capitol and at the White House, and what led to that violent attack. I would urge all of you on this panel to recognize that history is watching. We hold these positions of public trust to do what is right and just. Above all, our duty is to preserve our Republic, not to act for political convenience, not to attempt to conceal what happened. I would ask each of you, please, do your duty. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”
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