Attorney in Fulton Trump case fights to keep his law license

Jeffrey Clark was a top official at Justice Department
Jeffrey Clark, then acting assistant U.S. attorney general, speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/POOL/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Jeffrey Clark, then acting assistant U.S. attorney general, speaks at a news conference at the Justice Department in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 21, 2020. (Yuri Gripas/POOL/AFP/Getty Images/TNS)

An attorney charged in Georgia for aiding Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election faces another challenge this week: holding on to his law license.

The disciplinary trial of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark begins Tuesday in Washington. The bar complaint against him says Clark attempted to convince Georgia officials to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s victory on false pretenses – an attempt that went nowhere but led to a dramatic White House showdown and the resignation of Trump’s U.S. attorney in Atlanta.

Clark isn’t the only Trump associate fighting for his law license. Dozens of lawyers have faced ethics complaints for their roles in Trump’s push to stay in power despite losing to Biden. Among them are seven of the 19 people charged last August in the Georgia election interference case.

“Our effort is really to hold accountable those who fought to overturn the election,” said Michael Teter, an attorney and managing director of The 65 Project, a watchdog group that has filed numerous election-related complaints against lawyers across the country. “But, more importantly, it will deter future abuse of the American legal system to undermine elections.”

Critics say the complaints are politically motivated and – like the criminal charges in Georgia – could discourage lawyers from aggressively representing their clients.

“Everybody is entitled to zealous representation,” said John Malcolm, a former federal prosecutor now at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Anything that puts a chill on that is bad for lawyers and bad for anyone wrapped up in the legal system.”

‘Serious concerns’

Three years ago, Trump used several strategies to try to reverse Biden’s victory. He and his supporters filed scores of lawsuits challenging the results in Georgia and other states, saying the election was rife with fraud. Investigators found no evidence to support the fraud allegations, and judges rejected the lawsuits.

Trump also sought to convince state legislators to name him the winner. He tried to enlist the Justice Department to intervene on his behalf. And he pressured Congress and Vice President Mike Pence to overturn the results on Jan. 6 – leading a Washington rally that devolved into an attack that disrupted congressional certification of Biden’s victory for hours.

Inside the campaign to undermine Georgia’s election

Aiding Trump in these various efforts were numerous attorneys who now find themselves under scrutiny.

Clark was a senior Justice Department official who tried to get DOJ to intervene in the election on Trump’s behalf.

He drafted a letter to Gov. Brian Kemp and legislative leaders, asking them to convene a special session of the General Assembly to consider naming Trump the winner. He said the DOJ had “serious concerns” about voting fraud that justified the move.

But DOJ had no such concerns. The FBI and U.S. Attorney’s Office in Atlanta had investigated numerous allegations of voting fraud in Georgia and other states and found nothing to them. William Barr, Trump’s attorney general, had confirmed as much publicly and in private conversations with Trump.

Clark’s superiors rejected his request to send the letter to Georgia and other swing states. Acting Deputy Attorney General Richard Donoghue told Clark that sending such the letter “would be a grave step for the department to take and it could have tremendous constitutional, political and social ramifications for the country.”

But Clark continued to press his case. Trump considered naming him attorney general until senior DOJ officials threatened to resign en masse.

B.J. Pak. then the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia, resigned in the aftermath of the 2020 election. JASON GETZ / JGETZ@AJC.COM

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But during a White House showdown on Jan. 3, 2021, Trump demanded that DOJ officials fire Byung “Bjay” Pak – the U.S. attorney in Atlanta who had investigated fraud allegations and found them lacking. DOJ officials convinced Trump to allow Pak to resign.

Now Clark is fighting to keep his law license. The Office of Disciplinary Counsel for the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in Washington has accused him of dishonesty and conduct that would interfere in the administration of justice to keep Trump in power. A trial is expected to take about nine days.

If the panel removes his law license, it would bar him from practicing law in Washington D.C.

Clark’s attorneys and a spokeswoman did not respond to requests for comment.

Deterrent effect

In documents filed in the disciplinary proceeding, Clark has argued the disciplinary board does not have the authority to punish him for advising Trump or from dissenting from his superiors’ view that there was no significant fraud in the 2020 election. Among other things, he also has argued his conduct “was not improper, independently wrongful or otherwise unlawful.”

Clark also faces two felony counts in Fulton County for the same actions cited in the bar complaint. He has pleaded not guilty and assailed the charges as politically motivated.

Clark isn’t the only Georgia defendant facing disciplinary action from the legal community. Attorneys Kenneth Chesebro, Jenna Ellis and Sidney Powell – who pleaded guilty to various charges in October – also face ethics complaints in various jurisdictions. So do defendants John Eastman, Rudy Giuliani and Ray Smith.

It’s unclear how successful those efforts will be. New York has suspended Giuliani’s law license, and other attorneys have faced sanctions. But many of the ethics complaints have failed to gain traction.

Teter, the 65 Project attorney, said state disciplinary panels are accustomed to dealing with more common complaints about lawyers – such as stealing money from clients. He said they must adjust to the extraordinary threat posed by Trump – the likely 2024 Republican presidential nominee – and his enablers.

But he said the complaints have already had a deterrent effect.

“We are prepared to continue our effort to deter the abuse of the legal system,” he said.

Malcolm, the Heritage Foundation attorney, called the effort to discipline the attorneys “lawfare at its worst” that could come back to haunt anti-Trump partisans.

“I think this will have a chilling effect on the legal profession,” Malcolm said. “The chickens may come home to roost when the shoe is on the other foot.”