The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack on Monday recommended the full chamber hold Mark Meadows, former President Donald Trump’s last White House chief of staff, in contempt of Congress for refusing to appear for a deposition under subpoena.
After the unanimous committee vote, the full House could hold Meadows in contempt as early as Tuesday.
In the brief session Monday night, the committee blasted Meadows for refusing to appear for a deposition to field questions about some of the more than 9,000 pages of emails and text messages he had previously turned over to the committee.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice chair of the panel, quoted extensively from text messages sent to Meadows during the riot from Fox News hosts, GOP lawmakers and Donald Trump Jr., the former president’s eldest son.
Cheney said the messages left “no doubt” the White House “knew exactly what was happening” at the Capitol during the riot.
“He’s got to condemn [the riot] ASAP,” Trump Jr. told Meadows in a text message, according to Cheney, saying that Trump’s tweet about Capitol Police “is not enough.”
“I’m pushing it hard,” Meadows replied. “I agree.”
“We need an Oval address,” Trump Jr. said in a follow up message. “He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
“Please get him on tv,” Fox News host Brian Kilmeade wrote to Meadows. “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”
Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., read aloud from text messages Meadows received from unnamed GOP lawmakers before and after the riot.
“Yesterday was a terrible day,” one wrote. “We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked.”
“A day after a failed attempt to stop the peaceful transfer of power, an elected lawmaker tells the White House chief of staff, ‘I’m sorry nothing worked.’ That is chilling,” Schiff said. “We would like to ask Mr. Meadows what he thought about that.”
After initially signaling cooperation with the committee, Meadows reversed course and said he would respect Trump’s assertion of privilege even though the Biden White House declined to invoke executive privilege over his testimony.
In a 51-page report released Sunday night, the committee argued that Meadows is “uniquely situated to provide critical information” to its inquiry, given his proximity to Trump before, during and after the presidential election and Jan. 6 Capitol attack, as well as his own extensive involvement in efforts to contest the results.
Meadows, the committee said, played a central role in those challenges, communicating with GOP lawmakers, activists, Trump allies and campaign officials from the west wing, often using a personal email account and a nongovernment cell phone.
Meadows had initially agreed to cooperate with the inquiry, turning over more than 9,000 pages of records to investigators, including text messages with GOP lawmakers and a member of the president’s family during the riot, as well as emails with Justice Department officials encouraging them to investigate claims of voter fraud.
But he changed course before he was scheduled to appear for an in-person deposition on Capitol Hill last month, arguing instead that he would respect Trump’s assertion of privilege even though the Biden White House declined to do so over his testimony.
“To be clear, Mr. Meadows’s failure to comply, and this contempt recommendation, are not based on good-faith disagreements over privilege assertions. 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,” the panel wrote in its report.
In a Monday letter to the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack, George Terwilliger, an attorney for Mark Meadows, urged the panel and House not to hold Meadows in contempt for refusing to cooperate with a subpoena, saying it would be “unjust.”
“It would ill-serve the country to rush to judgment on the matter,” Terwilliger wrote.
“We recognize and do not dispute that the violence and interference with the processes of our democratic institutions as occurred on January 6, 2021, were deplorable and unjustifiable events,” he wrote. “But the real strength of our democratic institutions comes from the principles that undergird them, and no singular event can justify overrunning centuries-old safeguards of the republic.”
In addition to the records already turned over to investigators, the panel argued that Meadows’s claims were undercut by the fact that he recounted his experience on Jan. 6 in his just-released memoir, “The Chief’s Chief.”
“He can’t decline to tell the story to Congress and on the very same day publish part of that story in a book to line his pockets,” Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., a member of the committee, said Monday.
“It’s hard to reconcile how he can talk about Jan. 6 and his conversations about it and others for a book but not to Congress,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the commitee, previously told ABC News.
If the Justice Department decides to charge Meadows, he could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine for refusing to appear before the panel.
Already, the Biden Justice Department has charged Trump adviser Steve Bannon with two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the committee’s subpoena for records and testimony. His trial is set to begin in July, a federal judge announced last week.
Should the House vote go through, Meadows would become the first former lawmaker to be held in criminal contempt by his former chamber.
In 1832, former Rep. Sam Houston was detained and reprimanded by the House speaker for assaulting a former colleague, under the House’s “inherent contempt” powers.
“Whatever legacy he thought he left in the House, this is his legacy now,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said of Meadows. “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.”