His so-called cooperation was short-lived, however, and now his fate rests with the Department of Justice, which will decide whether to prosecute Meadows for his obstinance. It has been 189 years since a former member of the U.S. House of Representatives has been found in contempt.
Meadows’ cooperation unraveled fast just a day before he was scheduled to be deposed. His attorney argued the investigatory panel had failed to respect the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. Then, last week, Meadows sued each member of the select committee, alleging the subpoena targeting him was “unduly burdensome” and amounted to illegal coercion forcing him to violate the U.S. Constitution.
In that lawsuit’s wake, the committee—their patience exhausted—forged ahead and pushed a vote to hold Meadows in contempt in the full House of Representatives. On Tuesday, floor debate in the runup to the vote was tense, but Jan. 6 committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Republican, expressed the panel’s decision.
“President Trump is hiding behind executive privilege. All of my colleagues—all of them—knew that what happened on January 6 was an assault on our Constitution. They knew it at the time, yet now they are defending the indefensible. Whether we tell the truth, get to the truth, and defend ourselves against it ever happening again is the moral test of our time. How we address January 6 is the moral test of our generation. It is very sad to see how my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are addressing this issue. Mr. Meadows has refused to testify about nonprivileged material. He is in contempt,” she said.
Terwilliger has insisted that Meadows has always cooperated in full with the committee, noting how Meadows handed over records that he did not deem privileged.
Part of what Meadows turned over included a troubling PowerPoint presentation entitled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference and Options for Jan. 6,” as well as a slew of text messages sent to Meadows on Jan. 6. Those messages came from a trio of Fox News hosts including Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham, and Brian Kilmeade, as well as Trump’s son, Donald Trump Jr.
The messages were proof positive, Cheney said, of Trump’s “supreme dereliction of duty” during 187 minutes on Jan. 6 when a violent mob breached the Capitol complex.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy,” Ingraham wrote to Meadows.
Hannity begged for Trump to act, texting Meadows: “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol?”
Kilmeade, aggrieved over the appearance of the putsch unfolding live, wrote to the former White House chief of staff: “Please get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Cheney read all of these pleas from the floor and then one more, this one from Trump Jr.
“He’s got to condemn this,” Trump Jr. wrote to Meadows. “The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.”
And in another text to Meadows, Trump Jr. called for an Oval Office address.
“He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand,” Trump Jr. wrote.
Reading those nonprivileged messages aloud from the floor Tuesday, Cheney shared Meadows’ response: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
A contempt report for Meadows published by the committee on Tuesday further exposed the anti-democratic rot that had consumed the Trump presidency: Meadows sent an email on Jan. 5 indicating the National Guard would be on hand in Washington, D.C. “to protect pro-Trump people.” Others would be on standby, according to the committee’s findings.
The contempt report also highlighted how Meadows, in correspondence with a senator, mulled over former Vice President Mike Pence’s powers to reject electors, a maneuver that could have altogether altered the rightful 2020 election results.
Though Meadows argues executive privilege shields him from full, unadulterated cooperation with the committee, Thompson contends that isn’t the case since President Joe Biden has waived privilege over communications between the former president and his staff regarding the Capitol attack.
“If you’re making excuses to avoid cooperating with our investigation, you’re making excuses to hide the truth from the American people about what happened on Jan. 6,” Thompson said. “You’re making excuses as a part of a cover-up. If you base your arguments on these excuses, if you adopt these excuses as your own about why you won’t take action, then you are a part of that cover-up, too.”
Before the contempt vote was finalized, Republicans on the House floor were often bitter at the scrutiny heaped on Meadows. Rep. Jim Banks, a Republican from Indiana, called the contempt vote “criminalization of dissent” and “secret snooping” by Democrats.
Meadows’ lawyer called the push by the committee “duplicitous.”
The Jan. 6 committee has also recommended a criminal contempt of Congress charge for ex-White House strategist Steve Bannon. Bannon flatly refused any participation with the committee and awaits a trial this summer.
Former Trump crony and Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark was the second figure tapped for contempt but that will play out this week.
Clark is responsible for orchestrating a pressure campaign at Trump’s behest against Georgia officials, according to records obtained by the committee. Clark and the former commander-in-chief worked to delay certification of election results. Clark was willing to oust his superior at the Department of Justice to do it.
After weeks of back and forth with Clark, a full vote for his contempt referral has not yet happened. Clark first agreed to sit for a deposition but then fell ill, and the committee agreed to reschedule his appearance for this Thursday. Clark has indicated he will invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Meadows, in an appearance on Fox News, called the vote Tuesday night “disappointing but not surprising.”
In a statement Wednesday morning, Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a New York Democrat, reflected on the historic nature of the House’s vote.
“Mark Meadows is the first White House chief of staff facing criminal charges since H.R. Halderman during the Watergate scandal. Under Meadow’s leadership, our country was tormented with years of racist, hateful, and bigoted policy that culminated into an attack on our Capitol, elected officials, and common people working at the Capitol to support our democracy. Mark Meadows needs to be held accountable for the part he played in neglecting our democracy and we need to set an example for the leadership we expect as a country moving forward,” Bowman said.
So far, the committee investigating the attack on the Capitol has received some 30,000 pages of records and 300 witnesses have cooperated with the probe. Public hearings are expected early next year.
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