U.S. House committee recommends contempt charge for Trump-era Justice Dept official
WASHINGTON, Dec 1 (Reuters) - The U.S. congressional committee probing the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol voted on Wednesday in favor of contempt of Congress charges against Jeffrey Clark, a senior Justice Department official under former President Donald Trump.
The seven Democratic and two Republican members of the House of Representatives Select Committee approved a report recommending the criminal charge by a unanimous 9-0 vote, after Clark appeared before the committee in early November but declined to answer questions.
The committee's approval of the report paved the way for the entire House to vote on whether to recommend contempt charges.
Representative Bennie Thompson, the panel's Democratic chairman, said before the vote that Clark's attorney had contacted them on Wednesday evening and said Clark had invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate and agreed to continue his deposition.
Thompson said the committee nonetheless was going ahead with the contempt proceeding, and had ordered Clark to appear on Saturday. "We will not allow anyone to run out the clock, and we will insist that he must appear," Thompson said.
Approval by the full, Democratic-controlled chamber would send the matter to the Department of Justice for a decision on whether to prosecute.
Clark, the former acting head of the Justice Department's civil division, was a proponent of Trump's false claims that his defeat by Democrat Joe Biden in the November 2020 election was the result of fraud.
Clark had argued that he was exempt from having to comply with the Select Committee's subpoena because his communications were protected by legal privilege.
QUESTION OF PRIVILEGE
Trump has urged former aides to disregard the Select Committee's subpoenas, issuing often-rambling statements insulting its members and arguing that he is protected by executive privilege, a legal principle that shields the president's communications.
Legal experts dispute that argument, saying it does not apply to former presidents.
The committee has made clear it will force compliance with its subpoenas.
Trump's longtime adviser Steve Bannon pleaded not guilty last month to two counts of contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the Select Committee.
Nearly 700 people have been charged with taking part in the assault on the Capitol on Jan. 6, the worst attack on the seat of the U.S. government since the War of 1812.
Four people died the day of the riot, and one Capitol police officer died the next day of injuries sustained while defending Congress. Hundreds of police were injured during the multi-hour onslaught, and four officers have since taken their own lives.
The Select Committee has issued at least 45 subpoenas to individuals and organizations and conducted hundreds of interviews with witnesses.
On Jan. 6, Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in a bid to prevent Congress from formally certifying his 2020 presidential election loss. Shortly before the riot, Trump gave a speech to his supporters repeating his baseless allegations that the election was stolen from him through widespread voting fraud and urging them to go to the Capitol and "fight like hell" to "stop the steal."
Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Scott Malone and Peter Cooney
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