The man with no pants is the unnamed star of Donald Trump’s latest indictment.
Jeffrey Clark was an obscure government lawyer in the waning days of the Trump administration when he very nearly seized control of the Justice Department to help the president overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Clark is not identified by name in Tuesday’s indictment, which accuses Trump of being at the heart of a conspiracy to fraudulently upend the election and prevent Joe Biden, the legitimate victor, from taking office. But the 45-page indictment’s description of “Co-Conspirator 4” matches Clark, who comes across as the most cinematic villain in the latest criminal conspiracy laid out by special counsel Jack Smith. (Filed in federal court in Washington, the indictment is Trump’s third this year.) Clark’s hunger for power and his contempt for democracy drip from the indictment’s pages.
The first time most Americans ever saw Jeffrey Clark, he was in his underwear. When the FBI raided his house in July 2022 in connection with the criminal investigation into Trump’s attempts to stay in power, Clark was only half dressed; he asked if he could go put on some pants, but they ordered him to come outside immediately while they searched his house. Videos of Clark standing in his doorway and then his driveway, wearing a blue dress shirt and what appeared to be black boxer briefs, were all over cable news.
Clark was a top environmental lawyer in the Justice Department during most of the Trump administration but was clearly eager for bigger things. After the election, when Trump was pressuring top Justice Department officials to cooperate with his efforts to overturn the vote, Clark saw his opportunity to move up. While his bosses at the Justice Department refused to get involved with Trump’s scheme, Clark went directly to the president behind their backs with a brazen scheme designed to weaponize the Justice Department to help reverse Biden’s victory.
The indictment offers an astonishing, blow-by-blow account of Clark’s attempt to help Trump and, in the process, help himself by hijacking the Justice Department while leaping over his superiors to become acting attorney general.
On December 22, 2020, Clark began to secretly conspire with Trump without the knowledge of his superiors at the Justice Department, according to the indictment. He met that day with Trump at the White House, but “Co-Conspirator 4 had not informed his leadership at the Justice Department of the meeting, which was a violation of the Justice Department’s written policy restricting contacts with the White House to guard against improper political influence.”
On December 26, Clark spoke on the phone with Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and lied about the circumstances of his meeting with the president, “falsely claiming that the meeting had been unplanned,” according to the indictment. Rosen told him not to have any further unauthorized contacts with the White House, and Clark promised he wouldn’t.
But the next day, according to the indictment, Clark talked to Trump on the phone. That afternoon, Trump called Rosen and Richard Donoghue, the acting deputy attorney general, and told them: “People tell me [Co-Conspirator 4] is great. I should put him in,” suggesting that he was considering putting Clark in charge of the Justice Department. At the same time, Trump followed up on his earlier efforts to pressure Rosen and Donoghue to use the Justice Department to help him overturn the election results, telling them: “Just say the election was corrupt and leave the rest to me and the Republican congressmen.”
On December 28, Clark sent a draft of a letter to Rosen and Donoghue for them to sign. The letter was addressed to officials in Georgia, but he proposed sending versions of the same letter to officials in other key swing states as well. The letter stated that the Justice Department had “identified significant concerns that may have impacted the outcome of the election in multiple states,” and claimed that two valid slates of electors had gathered and voted at the legally required time and place, and that both sets of ballots had been sent to Congress. That was Clark’s way of claiming that the Justice Department considered that fake slates of electors, created illegitimately by Republicans in states Trump had lost, were actually valid and should be accepted by state officials.
“Co-Conspirator 4’s letter sought to advance [Trump’s] fraudulent elector plan by using the authority of the Justice Department to falsely present the fraudulent electors as a valid alternative to the legitimate electors,” the indictment says. The letter also called on state legislatures to hold special sessions to choose fraudulent electors who would vote for Trump in the Electoral College instead of Biden.
As soon as he read the proposed letter, Donoghue emailed Clark and told him it was filled with lies. Rosen and Donoghue once again told Clark not to have any further contact with the White House. But once again, Clark disobeyed.
On December 31, Trump called Rosen, Donoghue, and other Justice Department officials to the White House and repeated that they were overlooking widespread voter fraud, adding ominously that he was thinking about a leadership change at the Justice Department.
On January 2, Clark raised the pressure on his bosses. He told Rosen and Donoghue that Trump was considering making him acting attorney general, but that he would turn down the job if they would sign his proposed letter to the states. They refused, according to the indictment.
On January 3, Clark met with Trump at the White House again, and accepted the president’s offer to become acting attorney general.
Right after that meeting, Patrick Philbin, the deputy White House counsel, told Clark not to accept the job and to drop his attempts to use the Justice Department to overturn the election, warning Clark that doing so would lead to “riots in every major city in the United States.” The indictment says that “Co-Conspirator 4 responded: “[W]ell, [Deputy White House Counsel] that’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”
Later that day, Clark met with Rosen and told him he was taking over as acting attorney general. Rosen shot back that he would refuse to accept being fired by him, and immediately called the White House and scheduled a meeting with Trump for that night.
During that meeting, Rosen and other Justice Department officials told Trump that if Clark were named acting attorney general, there would be mass resignations from the Justice Department. Clark was sitting right there with them in the meeting when they issued their warning, the indictment says. Trump finally backed down and agreed not to turn the Justice Department over to Clark.
But Clark persisted; during the same meeting, he said that the Justice Department could issue an opinion saying that Vice President Mike Pence had the power to change the election outcome during the certification proceedings on January 6. When another Justice Department official said the department shouldn’t do that, Trump interrupted. “No one here should be talking to the Vice President,” he said, according to the indictment. “I’m talking to the Vice President.”
That ended the conversation, and Jeffrey Clark’s reach for power. The next time Clark was heard from, he was trying to reach for his pants.