There are no magic wands to help Donald Trump’s people sidestep the January 6th Committee, and we keep seeing proof of this. Steve Bannon tried invoking executive privilege as an excuse not to show up, and it got him indicted and arrested. Mark Meadows realized he couldn’t use privilege as a magic wand, and it’s why he’s begun cooperating with the committee. Now former Trump DOJ official Jeffrey Clark is trying a different trick – pleading the fifth – and we’re all about to see that it’s not a magic wand either.
Clark previously testified to the committee, but invoked executive privilege in response to the questions that scared him. In response, the January 6th Committee voted earlier today to refer Clark to the DOJ for prosecution for contempt of Congress. There was still the formality of a full House vote on the same matter, but before it could take place, Clark panicked.
Clark has now agreed to come back in and testify again later this week, with the intention of invoking the Fifth Amendment in response to the questions that scare him. This may not get the committee any additional evidence or information, but it nonetheless means the committee will have struck gold.
Pleading the fifth is not considered an indicator of guilt under the law. But in the court of public opinion there’s a world of difference between invoking executive privilege, which the public interprets as “I don’t have to answer this question because of important government reasons,” and invoking the Fifth Amendment, which the public interprets as “I’m afraid to answer this question because if I do, my own words will be used to put me in prison.”
Assuming Clark goes through with pleading the fifth, the January 6th Committee will now get to tell the general public some form of “See, we told you Donald Trump and his henchmen led a criminal conspiracy to overthrow the 2020 election.” It instantly legitimizes the committee in the eyes of anyone who hasn’t been paying attention thus far, and it instantly paints Trump as guilty in the court of public opinion.
This is also important because it means every upcoming January 6th witness is about to see that pleading the fifth to the committee doesn’t magically get them out of anything. If Clark tries to invoke the Fifth Amendment broadly in response to the kinds of questions that couldn’t reasonably incriminate him, then the House can still refer him to the DOJ for contempt. And if Clark invokes the Fifth Amendment narrowly in response to just a handful of very specific questions, it’ll provide the committee (and the DOJ) a roadmap for specifically where to dig for criminal activity.
The bottom line is that there simply are no magic wands that Trump’s people can wave in order to get the January 6th Committee to just leave them alone. We wrote earlier today that it’ll be a boon for the committee if Mark Meadows ends up having to plead the fifth during any of his cooperation. Now Clark is apparently going to beat him to the punch in handing the committee this particular gift.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report