As recently as 2016, Donald Trump derided those who asserted their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. "The mob takes the Fifth Amendment," the then-candidate said, overlooking his own history with the legal right. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"
The quote came to mind again yesterday, as a lawyer Trump turned to for anti-election support prepares to plead the Fifth. NBC News reported:
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol voted unanimously Wednesday night to advance a measure to refer former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark to his previous employer for criminal contempt of Congress, but is also giving him one last chance to testify. Committee chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Wednesday evening that Clark's attorney notified him on Tuesday night that his client "now intends to claim Fifth Amendment protection" against self-incrimination.
In case anyone needs a refresher, in the aftermath of the 2020 election, as Trump explored ways to weaponize the Justice Department to help him hold power he hadn't earned, Clark became a person of great importance to the then-president.
Clark was the acting head of the Justice Department's civil division at the time, and he used his office to sketch out a map for Republican legislators to follow in which they could try to overturn the will of the state's voters. Trump was impressed enough with Clark's reported anti-election efforts that the then-president considered making Clark the acting attorney general as part of a possible Justice Department overhaul with only two weeks remaining in Trump's term.
We now know, of course, that Clark's scheme wasn't executed, and he didn't become the acting attorney general in January. But given the role he played in Trump's anti-election efforts, it didn't come as a surprise when the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack subpoenaed Clark in mid-October.
So far, the former Justice Department official has refused to cooperate — he showed up at a November meeting, bickered with investigators, and then left — which is why the select committee voted unanimously last night to hold Clark in contempt.
As Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, explained on the show last night, the current plan is for Clark to appear at a scheduled deposition on Saturday, at which point he will invoke the Fifth Amendment rather than answer investigators' questions. As the Mississippi Democrat put it, this will suggest Clark has "something to hide."
In fact, given the nature of the Fifth Amendment, Thompson added, "Obviously, he is aware that something went on that is illegal."
Watch this space.