Around New Year’s 2021, Jeffrey Clark, a Donald Trump-appointed environment law chief at the Justice Department who was at the heart of the former President’s efforts to overturn the election, received a high-level intelligence briefing that did little to deter his efforts to prove foreign meddling cost Trump reelection.
Clark is now a central figure in the story being written in documents and testimony from former Justice Department officials who were forced to fight off his attempts to stage a leadership change at the Justice Department in order to aid the former President.
Former Trump-appointed officials are painting a bleak picture of Clark, who were alarmed by his backchannel efforts to the White House and Trump allies, and are now testifying before congressional committees.
On Friday, Richard Donoghue, who has been acting deputy attorney general since late December, gave a closed-door interview to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
In the coming days, Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general at the time, will testify.
They and other witnesses will be called to testify before a new House select committee investigating the events surrounding the January 6 Capitol attack.
Clark told senior Justice officials that he knew of sensitive information that indicated Chinese intelligence used special kinds of thermometers to change results in machines tallying votes by late December, as Trump and his allies pushed conspiracies about alleged irregularities that he claimed stole the election from him, according to people briefed on the matter.
By that time, the Justice Department had made it clear that it had found no evidence of vote-rigging in the election.
According to people briefed on the matter, Clark — who also became assistant attorney general for the Justice civil division as top officials left in the final months of the administration — sent an unusual email to his bosses on Monday, December 28, asking them to allow him to have a classified briefing.
At Rosen’s request, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe gave the briefing, which drew on classified findings that were not yet public and showed there was no evidence of foreign meddling in the election results.
According to some of the sources, Rosen and other officials granted his request for a classified briefing in the hope that it would put an end to his baseless claims of election fraud.
Clark was not swayed by what he heard from Ratcliffe, a Trump supporter who had sparked controversy with comments attempting to back up Trump’s pre-election foreign interference claims that China and Iran were working to elect Joe Biden at the same time that Russia was attempting to support Trump.
While the intelligence community discovered that China and Iran had developed a preference for Biden, and that Iran had taken steps to undermine Trump’s reelection prospects in particular, those efforts were characterized in a very different way than Russia’s multifaceted interference campaign.
Clark expressed skepticism during the briefing, not of Ratcliffe’s personal motives, but of the intelligence community analysis he was presenting, according to the source. According to the source, Clark believed that some intelligence officials were withholding information from Ratcliffe because they were concerned that it would be politicized by the Trump administration or certain policymakers.
Clark’s lawyer refused to comment on the intelligence briefing. Ratcliffe remained tight-lipped about the briefing.
Clark also told colleagues he was in contact with sources who knew more, including Rep. Scott Perry, a Trump ally from Pennsylvania who helped Clark contact the former President, according to Justice Department officials.
Clark’s contacts with Trump surprised his superiors because Justice Department rules restrict contact between department officials and the White House. Officials from the Justice Department are also forbidden from discussing investigations with anyone outside the department.
Clark’s email to Rosen and Donoghue on December 28 described how he wanted US intelligence information from the Director of National Intelligence so he could assess whether Chinese-made digital thermometers could connect with voting machines, according to the House Oversight Committee.
“I would like to have your authorization to get a classified briefing tomorrow from ODNI led by DNI Radcliffe on foreign election interference issues,” Clark began his email, “hackers have evidence (in the public domain) that a Dominion machine accessed the Internet through a smart thermostat with a net connection trail leading back to China. ODNI may have additional classified evidence.”
Clark’s email also included a draft proposal for the Justice Department to press Georgia to call a special session to investigate the election, as well as assurances that the department would look into election fraud.
Donoghue and Rosen made it clear that they would not sign or send the letter to Georgia, and that the Justice Department would not suggest that a major election fraud investigation was warranted.
Clark had an unremarkable tenure as the Justice Department’s environmental law chief until last December, one of many political appointees who didn’t stand out during his occasional attendance at brown bag lunches with colleagues convened by former Attorney General William Barr in the attorney general’s dining room on the 5th floor of the Justice Department’s headquarters.
His coworkers described him as “brainy” and “wonky” when it came to his legal expertise. He came to the department from Kirkland & Ellis, a large, prestigious law firm where he spent years working with Rosen and Barr but never made enough of an impression to earn a partnership share.
Clark was the type of lawyer, according to a former coworker, who saw “no” as an intellectual challenge to be proven wrong rather than a definitive answer.
According to a source familiar with Clark’s thinking, Clark hasn’t been scheduled for an interview with the House Select Committee investigating the matter until January 6, and he’s waiting for access to documents the committee has and to see if a fight over the secrecy of presidential discussions materializes.
If the House presses for more information than has already been agreed upon, Trump’s private legal team has indicated that it may go to court to defend presidential privilege. Clark could also refuse to testify as a result of this. The Biden administration has indicated that it will not attempt to stop the House Committee from investigating Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department.