The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol voted 9-0 Monday to recommend that former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows be held in contempt of Congress.
The committee pursued contempt against Meadows after weeks of back-and-forth negotiations after he was subpoenaed by the panel. On Tuesday, the full House is expected to vote on the contempt resolution. From there, the Justice Department will decide whether to pursue an indictment.
On Monday evening before voting on the contempt resolution, Chairman Bennie Thompson noted that Meadows served in Congress for more than seven years, representing North Carolina as a Republican and briefly held the title of ranking member of the Oversight and Reform Committee.
“It’s not hard to locate records of his time in the House and find a Mr. Meadows full of indignation because, at the time, a prior administration wasn’t cooperating with a congressional investigation to his satisfaction,” the Mississippi Democrat said. “Whatever legacy he thought he left in the House, this is his legacy now. His former colleagues singling him out for criminal prosecution because he wouldn’t answer questions about what he knows about a brutal attack on our democracy. That’s his legacy,” Thompson added.
Vice Chair Liz Cheney read several texts Meadows turned over to the committee that he received on Jan. 6: “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy,” Cheney said, quoting a text from Fox News host Laura Ingraham to Meadows.
“Can he make a statement, ask people to leave the Capitol,” another Fox News personality, Sean Hannity, urged, Cheney said.
Meadows never showed for his Dec. 8 deposition to remedy his noncompliance with the congressional subpoena, a day after the release of his book, “The Chief’s Chief,” in which he addresses the Capitol attack.
“Mr. Meadows has refused to provide the Select Committee with information and testimony that has no conceivable, associated privilege claims. To complete its investigation, the Select Committee needs access to testimony on this non-privileged information,” the committee says in its report.
On Nov. 26, Meadows provided documents from his personal email account and a privilege log indicating hundreds of other documents were withheld because of executive, attorney-client or other claims of privilege. On Dec. 3, he turned over certain relevant messages from his personal cellphone and noted in a so-called privilege log that more than 1,000 text messages were not provided, also on claims of privilege.
Documents that Meadows produced include a Nov. 7, 2020, email about appointing alternate electors as part of a “direct and collateral attack” after the presidential election. A Jan. 5, 2021, email concerns a 38-page PowerPoint brief called “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN” to be provided “on the hill.”
The panel said it is pursuing contempt against Meadows because he flatly refuses to testify and answer questions on non-privileged information.
“To be clear, Mr. Meadows’s failure to comply, and this contempt recommendation, are not based on good-faith disagreements over privilege assertions,” the report states. “Rather, Mr. Meadows has failed to comply and warrants contempt findings because he has wholly refused to appear to provide any testimony and refused to answer questions regarding even clearly non-privileged information — information that he himself has identified as non-privileged through his own document production.”
Meadows’ participation, the panel argues, is integral to its investigation because he is among a group of people who witnessed the unfolding of Jan. 6 from the vantage point of the White House, in close proximity to former President Donald Trump.
As the violence progressed at the Capitol, Meadows received messages encouraging him to have Trump issue a statement to condemn the violence. He also spoke with Kashyap Patel, who was at the time chief of staff to acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller. Meadows apparently knows if and when Trump was in talks about the National Guard’s response to the attack, according to the committee’s report.
The committee listed an array of other matters of interest to their investigation regarding Meadows, including an email sent by him about Jan. 6 that stated the National Guard would be there to “protect pro Trump people” and that there would be more on standby.
The panel is also interested in a text exchange Meadows had with an organizer of the Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse wherein that person told him things “have gotten crazy” and asked for direction.
Meadows also traveled to Georgia, a crucial swing state in the 2020 presidential election, to observe an audit after Trump falsely claimed fraud in the process, the panel says in another example of interest to their inquiry. Meadows used a personal account to reach the state’s secretary of state, the report said.
Meadows also sent an email with the subject line ‘‘Constitutional Analysis of the Vice President’s Authority for January 6, 2021, Vote Count’’ to a member of then-Vice President Pence’s senior staff that included a memo that argued Pence could declare electoral votes in six states in dispute, according to the committee’s report.
On Monday morning, Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger III, sent a letter to the panel, arguing that Meadows made a legitimate privilege claim and is following the path he believes is aligned with the law.
“A referral and conviction in such a case would simply be unjust,” Terwilliger claims in his letter. “An executive branch official who makes a colorable claim of privilege is simply taking the course they believe the law requires them to take.”
Terwilliger also argues Congress should wait to act on contempt until the courts rule on the lawsuit filed by Meadows last week against the panel, which also names Speaker Nancy Pelosi, requesting the courts stop the House from enforcing subpoenas regarding him and his telecommunications carrier Verizon, and to stop the House from seeing or disclosing information gleaned from those subpoenas, in addition to other asks.
“The executive privilege and testimonial immunity do not belong to individual executive officials and they are not free to waive it,” Terwilliger said. “It would be unjust to refer such an official for prosecution before a court even has a chance to pass upon the merits of their claims.”
The committee earlier this month recommended that Jeffrey Clark, who served in Trump’s Justice Department during the insurrection, be held in contempt, but that has yet to make it to a floor vote because he reached an agreement with the panel. He asserted his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination and is scheduled to assert that on a case-by-case basis during his upcoming deposition on Dec. 16.
Trump ally Stephen Bannon was indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the panel’s investigation. His trial is set to begin in July. Unlike Clark and Meadows, Bannon was not in the administration leading up to and on the date of the Capitol attack.
Each contempt charge carries a maximum fine of $100,000 and a year in jail for the misdemeanor crime.