WASHINGTON — The House will vote Tuesday on recommending criminal contempt charges against former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, after he said he would no longer cooperate with the Jan. 6 Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.
That panel voted 9-0 Monday night to recommend the charges. A House vote to hold Meadows in contempt would refer the issue to the Justice Department, which would decide whether to prosecute the former Republican congressman. It would be the first time the House has voted to hold a former member in contempt since the 1830s, according to House records.
On Monday the committee released a series of frantic texts Meadows received as the attack was underway. The texts, provided by Meadows before he ceased cooperating with the committee, revealed that members of Congress, Fox News anchors and even President Donald Trump’s son were urging him to persuade Trump to act quickly to stop the siege by his supporters.
“We need an Oval Office address,” Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows, the committee said, as his father’s supporters were breaking into the Capitol, sending lawmakers running for their lives and interrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory. “He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Trump Jr. added, “He’s got to condemn this s—- ASAP.”
Members of the committee said the texts raised fresh questions about what was happening at the White House — and what Trump himself was doing — as the attack was underway. The committee had planned to question Meadows about the communications, including 6,600 pages of records taken from personal email accounts and about 2,000 text messages. The panel has not released any of the communications in full.
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel’s vice chairwoman, read from the texts at the committee’s Monday evening meeting. She said they show “supreme dereliction” and raise important questions about whether Trump sought to obstruct the congressional certification by failing through his inaction to send a strong message to the rioters to stop.
“These texts leave no doubt,” Cheney said. “The White House knew exactly what was happening at the Capitol.”
The investigating panel has already interviewed more than 300 witnesses, and subpoenaed more than 40 people, as it seeks to create the most comprehensive record yet of the lead-up to the insurrection and of the violent siege itself.
The committee’s leaders have vowed to punish anyone who doesn’t comply, and the Justice Department has already indicted longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon on two counts of contempt after he defied his subpoena. If convicted, Bannon and Meadows could face up to one year behind bars on each charge.
“Whatever legacy he thought he left in the House, this is his legacy now,” committee 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. That’s his legacy.”
In a Monday letter to Thompson, Meadows’ attorney George Terwilliger said the contempt vote would be “unjust” because Meadows was one of Trump’s top aides and all presidents should be afforded executive privilege to shield their private conversations. Meadows himself has sued the panel, asking a court to invalidate two subpoenas that he says are “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
Terwilliger noted that the contempt statute has been used infrequently and argued that a contempt referral of a senior presidential aide “would do great damage to the institution of the Presidency.”
On Tuesday, Terwilliger issued a new statement saying Meadows had never stopped cooperating but instead had consistently maintained that he could not be compelled to appear for an interview. He noted that Meadows has “fully cooperated” with respect to documents that are in his possession and are not privileged.
“As the House prepares to act on the Select Committee’s recommendation, perhaps Members will consider how the Select Committee’s true intentions in dealing with Mr. Meadows have been revealed when it accuses him of contempt citing the very documents his cooperation has produced,” Terwilliger wrote. “What message does that duplicity send to him as well as to others who might be inclined to consider cooperating in good faith to the extent possible?”
The committee has gradually teased a handful of the emails and texts Meadows had provided to the committee before he ended his cooperation.
On Monday, Cheney read from the texts from Trump Jr. and a series of Fox News hosts as those in Trump’s inner circle attempted to reach the president through his chief of staff.
“Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home … this is hurting all of us … he is destroying his legacy,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham texted Meadows, according to the committee.
“Please get him on tv. Destroying everything you have accomplished,” Fox News’s Brian Kilmeade wrote. Another text from Sean Hannity: “Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol.”
In response to one text from Trump Jr., Meadows texted: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
Cheney also detailed texts that she said were from members of Congress and others in the Capitol.
“Hey, Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol,” read one text. “Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?”
Another read: “There’s an armed standoff at the House Chamber door.”
If Meadows had appeared for his deposition, lawmakers had also planned to ask him about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in the weeks before the insurrection, including his outreach to states and his communications with members of Congress.
Trump’s former top White House aide “is uniquely situated to provide key information, having straddled an official role in the White House and unofficial role related to Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign,” the panel said in a 51-page report.
As part of its list of questions for Meadows, the panel says it wanted to know more about whether Trump was engaged in discussions regarding the response of the National Guard, which was delayed for hours as the violence escalated and the rioters beat police guarding the Capitol building.
The documents provided by Meadows include an email he sent to an unidentified person saying that the Guard would be present to “protect pro Trump people,” the panel said, and that more would be available on standby. The committee did not release any additional details about that email.
Committee staff said they would have interviewed Meadows about emails “to leadership at the Department of Justice on December 29th and 30th, 2020, and January 1st, 2021, encouraging investigations of suspected voter fraud,” even though election officials and courts across the country had rejected those claims.
In a text exchange with an unidentified senator, the committee said, Meadows said Trump believed Vice President Mike Pence had power to reject electors in his role presiding over the Jan. 6 certification.
Pence did not have that power under the law, as the vice president’s function is largely ceremonial.