Jeffrey Clark, a Donald Trump-appointed environment law chief at the Justice Department at the center of the former President’s efforts to overturn the election, received a high-level intelligence briefing around New Year’s 2021 that did little to stop his efforts to prove foreign interference had cost Trump reelection.
Clark is now a major figure in the narrative being written in documents and testimony from former Justice Department officials who were forced to fight off his efforts to orchestrate a coup of leadership at the Justice Department and use it to help the former President.
A stark portrayal of Clark is emerging from former Trump-appointed officials who were alarmed by his backchannel efforts to the White House and to Trump allies, and who now are now providing testimony to congressional committees. Richard Donoghue, acting deputy attorney general beginning in late December, provided a closed-door interview to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Friday.
Jeffrey Rosen, the acting attorney general at the time, is set to provide testimony in the coming days. A new House select committee examining events surrounding the January 6 Capitol attack also plans to ask for testimony from them and other witnesses.
By late December, as Trump and his allies pushed conspiracies about alleged irregularities that he claimed stole the election from him, 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, people briefed on the matter said. The Justice Department by then had made clear it found no evidence of vote-changing in the election.
Timeline: What Georgia prosecutors are looking at as they investigate Trump’s efforts to overturn the election
On Monday, December 28, Clark – who also became assistant attorney general for the Justice civil division as top officials left in the waning months of the administration – sent an unusual email to his bosses asking them to allow him to have a classified briefing, according to people briefed on the matter.
At Rosen’s request, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe provided the briefing, which drew on classified findings not yet public that showed there was no evidence that foreign interference had affected vote tallies. Rosen and other officials had acceded to his request for a classified briefing out of belief it could put a stop to his unfounded claims of election fraud, according to some of the sources.
Clark wasn’t swayed by what he heard from Ratcliffe, a Trump loyalist who had stirred controversy with comments seeking to support Trump’s pre-election foreign interference claims that China and Iran were working to elect Joe Biden just as Russia was trying to support Trump.
While the intelligence community did find that China and Iran had developed a preference for Biden, and Iran in particular had taken steps intended to undercut Trump’s reelection prospects, those efforts were characterized in a much different way than Russia’s multi-faceted interference campaign.
During the briefing, Clark expressed skepticism not of Ratcliffe’s personal motives, but the analysis from the intelligence community that he was presenting, the source added. Clark believed some intelligence officials were withholding certain information from Ratcliffe because they were concerned about it being politicized by the Trump administration or certain policymakers, the source also said.
An attorney for Clark declined to comment on the intelligence briefing. Ratcliffe declined to comment on the briefing.
Clark also told colleagues he was in touch with sources who knew more, including someone Justice officials later determined was Rep. Scott Perry, a Trump ally from Pennsylvania who helped Clark get in touch with the former President. Justice Department rules limit contact between department officials and the White House, and Clark’s contacts with Trump came as a shock to his superiors. Justice Department officials are also prohibited from discussing investigations with people outside of the department.
Clark’s December 28 email, obtained by the House Oversight Committee, was sent to Rosen and Donoghue and described how Clark wanted US intelligence information from the Director of National Intelligence so he could assess whether Chinese-made digital thermometers could connect with voting machines.
“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 his draft proposal for the Justice Department to press the state of Georgia to convene a special session to investigate the election, and assurances that the Department of Justice would look into election fraud as well. ABC News first published a copy of the email this week.
Donoghue and Rosen made clear they would not be signing or sending the letter to Georgia, and that the Justice Department would not be suggesting there was reason for a major election fraud investigation.
Until last December, Clark had led an unremarkable tenure as the department’s environmental law chief, one of many political appointees who didn’t particularly 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 headquarters.
People who worked with him called him cerebral and wonky about his legal specialty. He came to the department from the large, prestigious Kirkland & Ellis law firm where he worked for years with Rosen and Barr, but never made enough of a mark to earn a share in the partnership.
A person who previously worked with him says Clark was the type of lawyer who took “no” to be an intellectual challenge to be proven wrong rather than a final answer.
Clark isn’t scheduled yet for an interview with the House Select Committee investigating January 6 and is awaiting access to documents the committee has and to see whether a fight over the secrecy of presidential discussions materializes, according to a person familiar with Clark’s thinking.
Trump’s private legal team has signaled it might go to court to fight for presidential privilege if the House pushes for more information than has already been agreed upon. That could open the door for Clark to refuse to testify as well. The Biden administration has signaled it won’t try to block the House Committee in its inquiry into Trump’s pressure on the Justice Department.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated how Clark’s December 28 email was made public.
CNN’s Whitney Wild contributed to this report.