Some of Mr. Clark’s associates said he could be pedantic. As a manager, he made no effort to hide when he had little respect for the opinions of his career subordinates.
He is not known to be underestimated on the subject of himself. Where the typical biography on the Department of Justice website has a few paragraphs, Mr. Clark’s includes the elementary school he attended in Philadelphia, a topic he debated in college and which he worked for his college journal, The Harvard Crimson.
After graduating from Harvard in 1989, Mr. Clark received a master’s degree in urban affairs and public policy from the Biden School of Public Policy at the University of Delaware in 1993 and a law degree from the University of Georgetown in 1995. There was an appeals court clerk, Danny Boggs, who was known to give future employees quizzes that tested not only their knowledge of the law, but also a range of esoteric questions.
Mr. Clark then worked for Kirkland & Ellis from 1996 to 2001, followed by a stint in the environment and natural resources division of the Department of Justice under the Bush administration, before returning to Kirkland in 2005 in as a partner, but not the one with a stake in the firm, according to a person who worked closely with him at the law firm. He held the title of “partner without equity participation”, which meant that he did not share the profits of the firm or make management decisions.
When Mr Clark returned to the Justice Department as the head of the environment division in 2018, he flew under the radar. Like other Republican officials, he interpreted the division’s legal authority narrowly and had a generally strained relationship with career lawyers when it came to enforcing anti-pollution laws.
In one case, Mr Clark delayed Clean Water Act enforcement cases due to a pending Supreme Court case that career lawyers said was not directly related to their work, according to a lawyer familiar with these cases. The Supreme Court was hearing a case involving discharges that flowed into groundwater before reaching federally regulated waters, and the department was working on a case involving flows to land.
His employees believed Mr. Clark hoped the court would narrow the scope of the law in a way that would also apply to land spills. but by a decision of 6 to 3, it is not.