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Meet Justin Clark, Trump's Deputy Campaign Manager And Senior Counsel

NOEL KING, HOST:

The presidential election is less than six weeks away, of course. And you're going to start hearing the name Justin Clark. He's President Trump's deputy campaign manager and his senior counsel. NPR's Tamara Keith has this profile.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Justin Clark's path to the top of the Trump campaign started in an unlikely place.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Ready to lead - Al Gore.

KEITH: Twenty years ago between college and law school, Clark did accounting work for Al Gore's presidential campaign, though it seems to have fallen off his resume.

MIKE DUHAIME: I never heard that before.

KEITH: Mike DuHaime has known Clark for a decade, working on multiple Republican campaigns with him.

DUHAIME: As a guy who worked for George W. Bush, I'm going to ask him about that myself (laughter).

KEITH: George W. Bush ended up winning that election after legal battles over the recount in Florida went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. And that's when Clark, who grew up a moderate Democrat in Connecticut, went to law school. In 2006, he applied for a clerkship with Peter Zarella, then a justice on the Connecticut Supreme Court.

PETER ZARELLA: So when he came to me, he was in this thoughtful period or transition period in the political sense.

KEITH: Zarella liked that he was able to look at things from all sides. But there was something else. He says Clark is probably the most affable person he's met.

ZARELLA: That affability really hides or hid at the time his intensity and his hard work and his thoroughness.

KEITH: After time in private legal practice and volunteering in local Republican politics, Clark started working on campaigns, bringing that same intensity and thoroughness. Those who have worked with him say Clark is a political tactician, someone immersed in the details. Republican Tom Foley ran for Connecticut governor in 2010 and 2014. Clark managed his campaign both times.

TOM FOLEY: He has a system that I don't think he shares with anybody but himself. But in both of my campaigns, he got the delegate count at the conventions, you know, within three or four delegates. And that's not that easy to do.

KEITH: Foley lost both races in what is a blue state, and he said Clark took it hard, though he doesn't blame him.

FOLEY: I didn't win the election, but I think we had an emotional victory because we came so close.

KEITH: It's easy to forget there was talk of a contested Republican convention in 2016. Clark, who declined to comment for this story, played a role in lining up delegates for Trump to make sure that didn't happen. After the election, he was involved in the recounts. And in 2020, his work on state party rules meant there was nowhere for those who wanted to challenge Trump to get a foothold. Again, Mike DuHaime.

DUHAIME: And the process is different in every state. There's a lot of rules to keep them all straight, so you need a good lawyer who understands that, but then you also need somebody who's actually kind of done it.

KEITH: Clark has largely flown under the radar. Though late last year, his speech to a group of Republican lawyers in Wisconsin was caught on tape and distributed by a liberal opposition research group.

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JUSTIN CLARK: Traditionally, it's always been Republicans suppressing votes in places. Let's start protecting our voters, right? We know where they are now. We know where they are. And they're all in one part of the state, and their voters are all in one part of the state. So let's start playing offense a little bit.

KEITH: It sounded like he was saying Republicans worked to suppress the vote, but Clark and the campaign have insisted his remarks were misunderstood and he was just talking about false allegations levelled against the GOP. Either way, as Clark said, Republicans are going on offense this year, building an army of lawyers and volunteers to have on hand in key precincts as people vote and as absentee ballots are counted. Tamara Keith, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "A HUNDRED MOONS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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