House Votes to Hold Mark Meadows in Contempt for Refusing Jan. 6 Subpoena
Late Tuesday night, the House approved a motion to indict former White House Chief Of Staff Mark Meadows for violating a subpoena from the congressional committee that was investigating the Jan. 6 deadly attack by a pro Trump mob on the U.S. Capitol.
The measure was approved on a 222-208 vote, with just two Republicans—Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois—joining every Democrat present in voting “yes.” Tuesday’s full House vote comes one day after the members of the bipartisan select committee voted unanimously in favor of the resolution. Contempt of Congress charges can lead to up to one year imprisonment.
The committee found that Meadows, a longtime lawmaker from North Carolina who chaired the conservative House Freedom Caucus, has knowledge regarding former President Donald Trump’s alleged efforts to persuade state officials to alter their official election results and undermine the 2020 presidential election. Meadows, who had produced thousands of documents to the committee, was not only unable to attend a scheduled deposition on Dec. 8 because he didn’t want to.
Rep. Cheney was the vice chairman of the committee and read some of the text messages to Meadows that Republicans had sent on Monday and Tuesday as violence erupted at the Capitol.
“It’s really bad up here on the hill,” one said.
“The President needs to stop this asap,” another wrote.
“Someone is going to get killed,” one warned.
The messages he turned over to the panel also include Jan. 6 exchanges with the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and multiple Fox News hosts, who all called on the president to speak out amid the violent attack.
“He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP,” Trump Jr. texted Meadows, who responded: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
Cheney said that the former president ignored these pleas for help and “refused to act when his action was required,” raising the question of whether Trump may have illegally sought to “obstruct or impede” Congress’ vote count.
Another document turned over to the panel—a phone call from Meadows and Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger—revealed that Trump asked Raffensperger to “find 11,780 votes to change the result of the election.”
Meadows, who sued the Jan. 6 commission last week for issuing “two overly broad and unduly burdensome subpoenas” against him, said in an interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity on Monday night that he does not have to testify on any issue that the former president claims is protected by executive privilege.
“I’ve tried to share non-privileged information,” Meadows said. “But truly the executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is his to waive. It’s not mine to waive.”
Legal experts have cast doubt on the merit of Meadows’s defense and say that he’s not completely shielded from answering questions, particularly those unrelated to his official White House duties. Trump’s sweeping claims of executive privilege to shield his activities and aides from congressional testimony have also been questioned by constitutional experts.
This matter will now be referred to the Justice Department. The Justice Department will then decide whether the contempt referral should proceed. The Jan. 6 Commission will be in the exact same position as it was before, even though Meadows may be charged. There won’t be any explanations for why Meadows didn’t call his supporters to disengage earlier.
“Once the committee moves to contempt, they’ve essentially given up getting any information from him,” says Jonathan Shaub, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who previously served in the Obama Administration’s Department of Justice. “Holding him in contempt is their biggest weapon, but it doesn’t mean he has to answer questions.”
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It’s unclear when a final resolution on Meadows will be made, but it could take some time. Steve Bannon’s contempt trial, which also failed to obey a Jan.6 panel subpoena, will begin July 18. This is just months ahead of the November 8 midterm elections, in which Congress will be controlled. The power to disband the Select Committee could be given to Republicans if they win the House back, which Democrats hold with a slim majority.
Shaub predicts that Meadows will be indicted by the Justice Department on the same charges as Bannon. Meadows’ case could be more complicated, however, since the two had very different roles at the time of the deadly riot: Meadows was a close presidential advisor and Bannon a private citizen. Meadows used his White House title in order to seek absolute testimonial immunity. This protects those who held or hold certain positions, and makes them free from the obligation to appear before Congress.
“Almost every conversation that he’s had is potentially privileged,” Shaub says. “But the absolute immunity doctrine is one the courts have rejected very soundly, even though the executive branch still continues to claim it.” Last year, the Supreme CourtTrump should have rejected absolute immunity as an argument for not turning over tax returns.
Before the House vote on Tuesday, Meadows’s lawyer George J. Terwilliger III spoke out against the charges, writing in a statement that his client never “stopped cooperating” with the committee and citing the thousands of documents he released to the panel. Steve Scalise, Minority Whip (Republican-La.). also urged fellow House Republicans to vote ‘no’ on the resolution, saying Meadows has “made good faith efforts to cooperate” with the committee.
Meadows’ legal team, Shaub says, may try to make the same point about acting in good faith to negate the criminal charges necessary for the Justice Department to indict him.