Inside ex-DOJ environment chief’s Trump election maneuvering

By Pamela King | 10/07/2021 12:29 PM EST

Former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Bossert Clark. Francis Chung/E&E News

Former President Trump’s top environmental lawyer last year pushed Justice Department leaders to publicly announce an investigation of the 2020 election results and tell lawmakers in key swing states to appoint new electors, according to a new Senate account.

The interim report, released today by the Senate Judiciary Committee’s majority staff, offers new details on Trump’s efforts to oust then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and overturn President Biden’s election victory — and sheds new light on the role ex-DOJ environment chief Jeffrey Bossert Clark played in the plan (Greenwire, Jan. 26).

The committee has been investigating Trump’s DOJ election actions for the last eight months, following a New York Times report earlier this year.

“Today’s report shows the American people just how close we came to a constitutional crisis,” Judiciary Chair Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said in a statement. “Thanks to a number of upstanding Americans in the Department of Justice, Donald Trump was unable to bend the Department to his will. But it was not due to a lack of effort. Donald Trump would have shredded the Constitution to stay in power. We must never allow this unprecedented abuse of power to happen again.”

In December, Clark, who had been head of DOJ’s environmental division and was also then leading the Civil Division, emailed Rosen and then-Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue a draft letter to Georgia officials.

The letter would have informed them that the department had “taken notice” of election irregularities in the state and recommended a special legislative session to find out which candidate had “won the most legal votes,” according to the report.

Clark suggested sending similar letters to “each relevant state,” the report says.

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee, who released a separate report, attempted to distance Trump from the proposal, noting that Clark told Rosen of the letter: “[T]hese are my ideas.”

“The available evidence shows that President Trump did what we’d expect a president to do on an issue of this importance: he listened to his senior advisors and followed their advice and recommendations,” said committee ranking member Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) in a statement.

In an interview transcript accompanying the reports, Rosen recounted a conversation he had with former White House counsel Pat Cipollone after receiving Clark’s proposal.

“[A]t that time, I did fill him in on that something odd was going on with Jeff Clark. And I told him a few of the things we talked about, that Jeff Clark was apparently in some kind of meeting with the President shortly before Christmas and these proposals that he’s making,” Rosen said.

“I said, you know, ‘This is odd.’”

Rosen rejected the proposal, but Clark continued to pursue it with his DOJ allies, the report says. Clark eventually returned to Rosen and Donoghue and told them that Trump had offered to allow Clark to replace Rosen as acting attorney general. Clark said he would decline the offer if Rosen signed off on the Georgia letter.

On Jan. 3, Rosen, Donoghue and other DOJ officials met with Trump in the Oval Office to tell him that senior department leaders would resign if the president moved forward with his plans.

Trump ultimately decided not to send the letter.

“[W]e were pleased that the President had made what I regarded as the correct decision,” Rosen said, according to the transcript of his interview. “Even though, as I said, he opened the meeting by saying ‘One thing we know is Jeff Rosen leading the Justice Department, nothing is going to get done in trying to overturn the election.’"

Rosen later added: “I said, ‘That’s true. But sometimes that’s the best course because it’s based on the law and the facts. It’s consistent with what’s in the best interest of the country.’"

D.C. Bar complaints

Based on its findings so far, Judiciary Committee Democrats asked the District of Columbia Bar to investigate Clark for professional misconduct.

The D.C. Bar should review Clark’s compliance with rules prohibiting lawyers from interfering with justice and from assisting clients in criminal or fraudulent activity, the committee majority said.

“The Committee is withholding potential findings and recommendations about criminal culpability until the investigation is complete,” the committee majority said in a statement.

Earlier this week, the group Lawyers Defending American Democracy filed its own ethics complaint about Clark with the D.C. Bar, suggesting an investigation and sanctions. The complaint is signed by a long list of prominent lawyers, including former DOJ attorneys.

Clark also faces a DOJ investigation, which was announced after the Times story came out.

Clark, who resigned from the Justice Department just before Biden took office, took over as assistant attorney general of the department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division in 2018.

In that role, he was tasked with enforcing the nation’s clean air and water laws, as well as defending the Trump administration’s environmental regulations.

He also took over as head of DOJ’s Civil Division toward the end of Trump’s presidency.

This summer, Clark landed at the New Civil Liberties Alliance, where he serves as chief of litigation and director of strategy (Greenwire, July 22).

The Judiciary Committee has not yet heard from Clark. Aside from Rosen, the panel has also interviewed Donoghue and BJay Pak, former U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

Clark could not be reached for comment on this story.