Thompson & Cheney Opening Statements at Select Committee Business Meeting
- As Delivered –
Washington—Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) this evening delivered the following statements at a business meeting during which the Select Committee adopted a report recommending that the House of Representatives cite Jeffrey B. Clark for criminal contempt of Congress:
Chairman Thompson: “‘I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States.’
“That’s a part of the oath my colleagues and I all took at the beginning of this Congress, and in years past, when we were sworn in as Representatives. In part of this oath all of our staff members take, every person who serves this country in uniform, civil servants and appointees across our government. And it’s part of the oath Jeffrey Clark swore the last time he was an Assistant Attorney General at the United States Department of Justice, of all places. To support and defend the Constitution.
“A year ago right now, while Mr. Clark was bound by that oath, an all-out attack on the Constitution was underway. The former President was waging a campaign to overturn the results of the election. His allies were looking for ways to get around the Constitution and keep him in power. It appears Mr. Clark was central to that effort.
“The campaign of political pressure and maneuvering failed. But the assault on the rule of law didn’t end. It escalated. It resulted in a violent attack on the seat of our democracy. What the former President’s inner circle couldn’t achieve with lies and unsupported lawsuits, a mob of rioters tried to do by force.
“So to do our duty—as members of this committee, as members of this body, as legislators charged with finding truth about an attack on our democracy and sworn to support and defend the Constitution—we put Mr. Clark on our witness list. As someone who was in direct contact with the former President in days leading up to January 6th, he has information we believe is relevant to our investigation.
“When he, unlike hundreds of others, refused to cooperate with our investigation voluntarily, we subpoenaed him on October 13th. And when he appeared for a deposition on November 5th, instead of answering our questions, his lawyer presented the committee with a dozen pages of excuses for defying the law and refusing to comply with our subpoena.
“We’ve heard the term “contempt of Congress” a lot in the last few weeks. We know it’s serious business that can land a person in serious trouble. But it can sound a little abstract. So, if you want to know what contempt of Congress really looks like… read the transcript of Mr. Clark’s deposition and his attorney’s correspondence with the Select Committee.
“Because what you find there is contempt for Congress and for the American people. Contempt for the Rule of Law. Contempt for the Constitution. Faced with specific questions, he refused to offer any specific claim of privilege that could shield him from answering. Instead, he hid. Again and again and again. Behind his attorney’s 12-page letter and vague claims of privilege. Then he said, and I’m quoting, ‘I think that we’re done.’ And he walked out.
“Mr. Clark’s former superiors at the Justice Department didn’t hide. Mr. Rosen and Mr. Donoghue. They answered the Select Committee’s questions for hours about the very same topics we’d like to address with Mr. Clark. Many others have done the same.
“And there’s nothing extraordinary about Congress seeking the testimony of a former Executive Branch official. Even the former White House Chief of Staff is now cooperating with our investigation.
“As permitted by House rules, I considered Mr. Clark’s objections and rejected them. The Select Committee provided him the opportunity to return to the deposition, and he refused to do so.
“I want to note that around eight o’clock last evening, Mr. Clark’s attorney sent a letter to the committee—another in a long series of long letters—stating that Mr. Clark now intends to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against incriminating himself in this process. He offers no specific basis for that assertion. He offers no facts that would allow the committee to consider it. Of course, Mr. Clark had the opportunity to assert this privilege and any other in response to questions we intended to ask him at the November 5th deposition. He declined to do so. He walked out.
“This is, in my view, a last-ditch attempt to delay the Select Committee’s proceedings. However, a Fifth Amendment privilege assertion is a weighty one. Even though Mr. Clark previously had the opportunity to make these claims on the record, the Select Committee will provide him another chance to do so. I have informed Mr. Clark’s attorney that I am willing to convene another deposition at which Mr. Clark can assert that privilege on a question-by-question basis, which is what the law requires of someone who asserts the privilege against self-incrimination.
“We have just learned that Mr. Clark has agreed to appear again to continue his deposition. However, we will proceed tonight with considering the contempt request, as this is just the first step of the contempt process. We just want the facts, and we need witnesses to cooperate with the legal obligation and provide us with information about what led to the January 6th attack. Mr. Clark still has that opportunity, and I hope he takes advantage of it, but we will not allow anyone to run out the clock, and we will insist that he must appear on this Saturday.
“Without objection, this correspondence will all be made part of the record.
“As with Mr. Bannon, the Select Committee has no desire to be placed in this situation but Mr. Clark has left us no other choice. He chose this path. He knew what consequences he might face if he did so. This committee and this House must insist on accountability in the face of that sort of defiance. We must honor the oath we took. To support and defend the Constitution.
“We all take that oath very seriously. I am sure that most public servants do. Because if that oath loses meaning… if it is reduced to empty words… then democracy and the rule of law in this country, we are in serious trouble.
“I urge my colleagues to support adoption of the report recommending that the House of Representatives cite Jeffrey Clark for contempt of Congress and refer him for prosecution by the Department of Justice.
“And I now recognize a distinguished leader on the Select Committee, Ms. Cheney of Wyoming, for any opening comments she’d care to offer.”
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Vice Chair Cheney: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
“Jeffrey Clark was an Assistant Attorney General, a Trump appointee at the Department of Justice. According to multiple sources, Mr. Clark was asked by then-President Trump to take over the role of Attorney General, in part 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 President Trump 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 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 justice. Imagine what would have happened if all the Trump-appointed leaders at the Justice Department had supported Clark and had 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, and his letter was not issued, because a group of honorable public servants, each holding high level positions in the Department of Justice, understood that they were bound by 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 campaign to overturn the presidential election. These leaders told him they would resign, and virtually all other high level Trump appointees at the Department would resign, as well. According to multiple accounts, the President’s White House Counsel also threatened to resign.
“Important details regarding all of these events remain unknown. How did this plan with Mr. Clark originate? Who else was involved? 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 so far Mr. Clark has refused to provide these answers.
“As the Chairman indicated, in the last hour, Mr. Clark’s attorney has told us that Mr. Clark would be willing to appear at another deposition and that he plans to assert his Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. If Mr. Clark believes that answering questions about his discussions with President Trump and others in November and December of 2020 and January of 2021 could incriminate him and he therefore wishes to invoke privilege on that basis, the committee would certainly consider that. We will not finalize this contempt process if Mr. Clark genuinely cures his failure to comply with the subpoena this Saturday.
“It is important to note, however, that Mr. Clark is not excused from testifying simply because President Trump is trying to hide behind inapplicable claims of executive privilege. And, of course, Mr. Clark is refusing to answer questions that are not conceivably subject to any executive or other privilege claim.
“Finally, let me make a larger point as well. President Trump continues to make the same false claims about a stolen election with which he has misled millions of Americans. These are the same claims he knows provoked violence in the past. He has recently suggested that he wants to debate members of this Committee. This Committee’s investigation into the violent assault on our Capitol on January 6th is not a game. When this Committee convenes hearings, witnesses will be called to testify under oath. Any communications Mr. Trump has with this Committee will be under oath, and if he persists in lying then, he will be accountable under the laws of this great nation and subject to criminal penalties for every false word he speaks.
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”
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