Jeffrey Clark, a top Justice Department official under Trump, was prepared to use the Insurrection Act of 1807 to put down any public protests that might have occurred if Trump stayed in office after the 2020 election, against the will of the people.
A top member of Donald Trump’s administration was prepared to use a pre-Civil War law to unleash the US military against American civilians if they protested Trump’s attempts to stay in power after losing the 2020 presidential election.
That revelation was one of dozens of pieces of incriminating evidence in the 45-page indictment of Trump approved by a grand jury on Tuesday. Trump was charged with conspiring to defraud the United States for his efforts to overturn the election. He also faces two other conspiracy counts and one obstruction charge.
The official responsible for the suggestion to invoke the Insurrection Act of 1807 goes unnamed in the document and is referred to as “co-conspirator 4,” but the indictment includes key information that makes clear this person is Jeffrey Clark, who served in Trump’s Department of Justice (DOJ).
Co-Conspirator 4 is described as “a Justice Department official who worked on civil matters and with who, the Defendant [Trump], attempted to use the Justice Department to open sham election crime investigations and influence state legislatures with knowingly false claims of election fraud.”
The indictment later refers to this individual as the man Trump wanted to put “in charge of the Justice Department.”
The description matches Clark, who was appointed acting head of the DOJ’s Civil Division in September 2020 and whose role in the effort to overturn the 2020 election is well-documented. Clark was so supportive of Trump’s efforts that the former president nearly appointed him as acting attorney general on Jan. 3, 2021.
Clark is alleged to have mentioned the Insurrection Act—a law that allows the president to deploy the military within the US to put down an uprising—during a Jan. 3 meeting with then-Deputy White House Counsel Pat Philbin (who is not specifically mentioned by name in the indictment).
Philbin had previously told Trump that there was no hope of overturning his election loss and that, “there is no world, there is no option in which you do not leave the White House” on Jan 20, 2021.
During his meeting with Clark, Philbin “tried to dissuade” him from accepting the position of Acting Attorney General, if Trump officially offered it to him. Philbin said there had not been meaningful fraud in the election and warned there would be “riots in every major city in the United States” if Trump tried to stay in office, against the will of the people.
Co-Conspirator 4 (Clark) replied: “That’s why there’s an Insurrection Act.”
The Insurrection Act has been used frequently during American history and for a variety of reasons.
President Abraham Lincoln invoked it at the beginning of the Civil War, and President Ulysses Grant used it to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan in the 1870s. The law was also invoked frequently to crush worker uprisings in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and perhaps most notably, was used by Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson to enforce federal court orders desegregating schools and other institutions in the South.
The law was last used in 1992, when then-president George H.W. Bush invoked it to put down the 1992 riots in Los Angeles following the acquittal of the police officers who brutally attacked Rodney King.
The Insurrection Act has long been controversial and has been criticized as being too broad and ripe for abuse.
Tuesday’s indictment underscores those fears of misuse, as the country came dangerously close to the law being used to suppress the will of the voters who might object to a president ignoring their votes, upending the constitution, and trying to stay in power by any means necessary.