Former Trump DOJ official Jeffrey Clark appeared to be fine with letting the January 6th Committee refer him to the DOJ for criminal contempt, until deciding at the last minute that he wanted to rush in and testify on a Saturday just so he could plead the fifth. But then MSNBC reported that Clark’s election tampering letter to Georgia officials had White House metadata on it, meaning someone in the Trump White House was conspiring with Clark on the letter, and suddenly Clark developed a serious medical condition at the last second and couldn’t testify.
Now the committee says that Clark has provided sufficient evidence of his medical problem, and his testimony has been rescheduled for December 16th, according to CNN. Wait a minute, that’s quite a ways off. So what’s really going on here?
Did Clark suddenly develop a medical condition that he knows will take nearly two weeks to get over? It’s possible, but it seems unlikely. It seems more likely that the committee is no longer in a hurry to hear from him, and has decided to put him at the back of the line while it hears from more willing witnesses first. This would be interesting given that two days ago the committee voted to recommend that the full House hold Clark in contempt.
Given this new revelation that Clark’s election tampering in Georgia had help from within the Trump White House, perhaps the committee has now decided to focus on nailing down the full story. If Clark isn’t willing to give up the name of his co-conspirator, either the electronic evidence or a willing witness may be able to pinpoint this person’s identity in the meantime. Then by the time Clark comes in on the 16th, presumably with the intent of still pleading the fifth, the committee would be able to confront him with the fact that it already knows what he’s been trying to hide, so he might as well just cooperate.
We’ll see what happens. But while many of the finer details are still unknown, it’s becoming clear that the January 6th Committee has the upper hand. When witnesses are trying to decide whether to plead the fifth or let themselves be indicted for contempt, it means they’re panicking. And if the committee has electronic proof that a Trump White House official was conspiring with Clark on felony election tampering, then the committee surely has a lot more evidence up its sleeve that it’ll strategically roll out in order to get the witnesses to panic even more.
Keep in mind that when a witness pleads the fifth, it’s because that witness fears or expects to be indicted for the underlying crime. The Fifth Amendment isn’t a magic wand; invoking it is essentially saying “I know I’m going down for this, but I don’t want to make it easier for prosecutors to nail me for it.” And if a witness lies to the committee and gets caught, that’s arguably the best case scenario, because the committee can then dangle the threat of a felony perjury referral in order to pressure that witness to cave.
The committee wants its hostile witnesses to panic, whether it’s to try lying, or to try pleading the fifth, because panicky witnesses are more likely to give something away in the process. The more frantically witnesses like Jeffrey Clark run in circles trying to figure out how to magically save themselves, the more quickly they end up realizing they have no way out but to cut some kind of deal and cooperate.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report