The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted Monday in favor of a resolution recommending criminal charges be filed against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for his failure to comply with a congressional subpoena.
“History will not look upon any of you as martyrs. History will not look at you as a victim,” select committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said Monday. “History will record that in a critical moment in our democracy, most people were on the side of finding the truth, of providing accountability, of strengthening our system for future generations. And history will also record in this critical moment that some people would not.”
Committee vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said that lawmakers had worked for weeks to negotiate for Meadows’ appearance only to have him refuse to testify on what she called unfounded claims of executive privilege. She pointed to several texts Meadows released that show frantic messages between himself and lawmakers at the Capitol on Jan. 6 ― messages that he did not try to define as privileged communication:
One from Fox News host Brian Kilmeade read: “Please get him [Trump] on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Another to Meadows from Fox News’ Sean Hannity: “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol?”
“He’s got to condemn this shit, ASAP,” Donald Trump Jr. texted to his father’s chief of staff.
“These non-privileged texts are further evidence of supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes,” Cheney said Monday. “Mark Meadows’ testimony is necessary to inform our legislative judgment, yet he has refused to give any testimony at all, even regarding non-privileged topics.”
Meadows was serving as chief of staff to former President Donald Trump at the time of the riot, making him a key target for the committee’s nine members, who aim to use the facts they uncover to recommend policy changes.
His refusal to cooperate this week came amid reports that Trump feels “betrayed” by Meadows’ new book, titled “The Chief’s Chief,” which illustrates the former president’s reckless behavior during his bout with COVID-19.
The resolution will now go to the full House for a vote and, if approved, on to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which is currently pursuing criminal charges against another Trump associate for his failure to comply with a subpoena from the committee. Steve Bannon, a former aide to Trump, was indicted in mid-November and faces trial in July. A third associate, Jeffrey Clark ― a former Justice Department official whom Trump once considered for attorney general ― is also facing the possibility of charges.
Meadows’ off-and-on cooperation with the panel came to an abrupt end Tuesday, when his lawyer sent the committee a letter.
At the heart of Meadows’ claim is the concept of executive privilege, the vague yet court-sanctioned right of sitting presidents to keep some records secret in order not to discourage aides from offering candid advice. Trump cites executive privilege in his lawsuit that aims to block the National Archives from releasing release of a large trove of presidential records, and Meadows, in turn, cites Trump.
Judges, meanwhile, have regarded Trump’s arguments with extreme skepticism.
Thompson and Cheney responded in a letter to Meadows on Tuesday saying that the committee was “left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.” (Meadows served several terms as a congressman from North Carolina before he was tapped to join the Trump administration.)
Thompson and Cheney pointed out that Meadows has already produced certain documentation in the form of personal emails and text messages ― providing a rare peek behind the curtain into the committee’s investigation ― and argued that they should at least be able to question Meadows on those documents.
Their letter revealed that Meadows had texted with an unnamed member of Congress about appointing a slate of alternate electors in swing states, a plan that was discussed in the Trump White House as a method of overturning the results of the 2020 election. Meadows sent an email the day before the Capitol attack regarding a 38-slide presentation titled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN,” and discussed having the National Guard on standby.
One of the key questions facing the Jan. 6 committee is why it took so long for backup law enforcement to arrive on the scene.
“There is no legitimate legal basis for Mr. Meadows to refuse to cooperate with the Select Committee and answer questions about the documents he produced, the personal devices and accounts he used, the events he wrote about in his newly published book, and, among other things, his other public statements,” Thompson and Cheney wrote.
Meadows’ lawyer apparently withheld “several hundred additional documents” and “over 1,000 text messages” that are relevant to the Jan. 6 probe but, according to the attorney, protected by various privileges.
The committee suggested that Meadows could take his deposition on a question-by-question basis, deciding which he believed to be covered by various privileges as he went along, but Meadows declined.