The U.S. House voted Tuesday to recommend criminal charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows over his failure to fully cooperate with its committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
He will likely become the second associate of former President Donald Trump to be charged for evading the panel ― following onetime Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who faces trial next summer.
The committee subpoenaed Meadows in late September, ordering him to hand over a large number of records from around the time of the Capitol riot and to answer questions from committee members in person.
Meadows cooperated somewhat. His attorney was in touch with the committee throughout October and November, and he turned over thousands of text messages and emails, but Meadows announced last week that he was done being helpful.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will now send the resolution to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, whose office will make the final call on whether to prosecute Meadows.
Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) had previously floated a compromise, saying that Meadows could answer questions just covering the documents he’s already provided because, they argued, those documents can no longer be shielded by executive privilege. Still Meadows refused.
“In an investigation like ours, when you produce records, you are expected to come in and answer questions about those records,” Thompson said on Tuesday. “And because not even Mr. Meadows was asserting any privilege claim over these records, there’s no possible justification for wholesale refusing to answer questions about them.”
“Mr. Meadows has no basis to refuse to testify,” Cheney agreed.
She also stressed the gravity of the panel’s work, adding: “There has been no stronger case in our nation’s history for a congressional investigation into the actions of a former president.” Trump, she said, “refused to act” for 187 minutes while his supporters ransacked the Capitol.
Debate prior to the vote was interrupted for about 40 minutes after Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.) said Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) had offended another colleague, Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), by neatly summarizing Banks’ voting record. Banks was originally nominated by his party’s leadership to serve on the Jan. 6 select committee but was rejected in part because some of his votes aligned with conspiracy theories about the validity of the 2020 presidential election.
Hoyer was “not surprised” that Banks “does not want to see” Meadows comply with the panel’s subpoena because, he said, “I believe that he fears the information that would be brought forward.”
His remarks were ultimately kept on the record.
On Monday evening, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack publicized a handful of potentially embarrassing communications from Meadows’ files in a public business meeting, revealing that Fox News hosts, Republican lawmakers and Donald Trump Jr. were all among those who frantically begged for Trump to do something to quell the violence that had erupted on Capitol Hill on Jan. 6.
“He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough,” Trump Jr. texted to Meadows.
“Please get him on TV,” wrote Fox News host Brian Kilmeade, who added: “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Another text was unveiled Tuesday. Revealing how early Republicans were scheming to overturn the election results, an unnamed lawmaker texted Meadows on Nov. 4 ― the day after the election ― suggesting an “aggressive” way for Republican-controlled state legislatures to intervene.
The nine-member panel voted Monday evening to move forward with the process of holding Meadows in contempt of Congress, adopting a resolution that recommends criminal charges. The chairs made the same argument for holding Meadows accountable before the larger House the next day.
As of last week, Meadows claims he does not have to cooperate with the panel because Trump wants to use executive privilege to block the investigation into the events of Jan. 6.
Thompson and Cheney wholly rejected that argument, pointing out that President Joe Biden has declined to use that tool to shield the executive office. Executive privilege is the court-sanctioned concept that presidents should be able to keep some communications secret so that aides feel free to give their honest advice, and most presidents are loath to chip away at it. Biden has declined to use it in this case, given the unprecedented nature of the Capitol attack.
Nevertheless, Trump argues that he should be able to assert executive privilege while no longer in office. So far, judges have ruled against him.
“But all that discussion about different privileges is a distraction. That’s not what this contempt referral is primarily about,” Thompson said on Tuesday.
“This referral centers on the information that even Mr. Meadows and his attorney say is outside all those claims of privilege. He provided roughly 9,000 pages of records that he and his attorney freely admit cannot be held back by any sort of privilege claim. They gave us a lot of information.”
Cheney also lamented the state of division within her party, segments of which have shifted to downplaying the deadly violence seen during the Capitol attack.
“We all, on this side of the aisle, used to be in agreement about what happened on Jan. 6,” Cheney said. “There was a brief period of time ― days, perhaps ― where we were in agreement.”
A third person, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, may be held in contempt of Congress in the coming weeks. The committee agreed to a resolution recommending charges against Clark earlier this month, but the full House has yet to take it up. Clark is expected to exercise his right under the Fifth Amendment to not testify before the panel when he appears for a scheduled deposition Thursday.