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Opinion: A historian goes in search of a reputed pro-Trump plotter

This new development seems to be the white-collar version of the mob insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Over morning coffee recently, I read the newspaper reports that a lawyer in the U.S. Department of Justice, Jeffrey Clark, had accepted the plan of then-President Donald Trump to oust the acting attorney general, Jeffrey A. Rosen, and replace him with Clark, who would then work to stop Congress from counting and confirming the certified Electoral College votes on Jan. 6. Reportedly, only the threat of high-level resignations at the Justice Department prevented the plot.

I immediately recalled Richard Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” in the throes of Watergate. This new development seems to be the white-collar version of the mob insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, also spurred by the former president. 

That’s when I asked myself: Who is Jeffrey Clark?

Peter H. Wood

I am no reporter; just a retired American historian and a concerned citizen. But when I typed a search for “Who is Jeffrey Clark?” into my computer, it yielded plenty of easily accessible and verifiable results. 

Jeffrey Bossert Clark was born in Philadelphia in 1967. He attended Catholic schools there before entering Harvard College in 1985, where he majored in economics and History.

Ironically, Clark later earned an M.A. from the Joseph R. Biden, Jr. School of Public Policy & Administration at the University of Delaware before earning a Georgetown law degree. He then clerked for Danny J. Boggs of the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Sen. Mitch McConnell has praised Judge Boggs as “a Kentuckian who is one of the finest legal scholars of his generation.” Others who have clerked for this respected conservative judge include recent White House counsel Pat Cipollone and the new Director of National Intelligence Avril Haines.

In 1996, Clark joined Kirkland & Ellis (the largest law firm in the world by revenue). There, he represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in lawsuits challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions, including from autos and industrial sources. 

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His clients included General Motors, Mitsubishi Motors Corp., Volkswagen Group America, and the oil giant BP. Clark successfully defended BP after the nation’s worst oil spill, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. One of his legal briefs has been called “such a comprehensive compendium of thoroughly debunked denial of the scientific consensus” on climate change “that it stands as a classic of the genre.”

Clark also opposed the Environmental Protection Agency’s regulation of greenhouse gases, posting an article (April 28, 2010) on the news platform PJ Media. “When did America risk coming to be ruled by foreign scientists and apparatchiks at the United Nations?” he asked. “The answer,” Clark replied rhetorically, is when the EPA under former President Obama issued a ruling “that carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases endanger the public health and welfare.” 

The powerful Federalist Society in Washington, D.C., appointed Clark to chair of its Environment and Property Rights Practice Group. He was elected to serve from 2012-2015 as a member of the Governing Council of the American Bar Association’s Section of Administrative Law.

In 2017, Trump nominated this outspoken opponent of environmental science to be the U.S. Justice Department’s top environmental lawyer. Clark was confirmed as assistant attorney general for the Environment and Natural Resources Division in October 2018. 

In September 2020, he was also appointed to be the acting head of the Civil Division at the Justice Department. In that capacity, without informing his superiors, he met secretly with Trump early in January, according to news reports. 

Trump reportedly floated a plan to remove the acting attorney general and replace him with Clark, who would then be expected to open an investigation and pressure state election officials to void Biden’s victory in Georgia.

Disheartening as it may be, the domestic terrorists in the treasonous attack on the Capitol must be brought to justice. Likewise, the president who invited them to Washington and clearly incited their murderous violence should be impeached. 

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Also, Republican members of Congress who lied for months about the election results and spoke out to subvert the peaceful transfer of power should be removed according to Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment.

“No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress,” that amendment states, “who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress,…to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” 

Meanwhile, the American Bar Association may wish to review the standing of Jeffrey Clark to practice law.


Peter H. Wood of Longmont is an emeritus professor of American history at Duke University.


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