WASHINGTON – The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection voted unanimously Monday to recommend the House cite former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for contempt for defying a subpoena and urged the Justice Department to pursue criminal charges.
Meadows provided some documents to the committee before refusing to testify under subpoena. His lawyer, George Terwilliger, urged the panel not to pursue contempt charges because Meadows was under orders from former President Donald Trump, who sought to keep his communications confidential under executive privilege.
But the committee chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Meadows refused to testify at a deposition after providing 9,000 pages of documents to the panel. Lawmakers want to ask about texts from lawmakers and Fox News hosts urging Trump to call off the mob.
“He changed his mind and told us to pound sand. He didn’t even show up,” Thompson said. “He has no credible excuse for stonewalling the Select Committee’s investigation.”
JAN. 6 COMMITTEE REPORT:Meadows said National Guard would ‘protect pro Trump people’
The House Rules Committee will meet at 9 a.m. Tuesday to set rules for floor debate on the Meadows contempt citation, and the Justice Department could decide within weeks whether to press charges.
Thompson said nearly 300 witnesses have cooperated with the committee, which received 30,000 records.
“I’m pleased to report we’re making swift progress,” Thompson said.
The top Republican on the committee, Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said the White House knew the attack was serious because lawmakers, television hosts and his own son sent texts to Meadows.
Lawmakers who weren’t named said they were “under siege” and “someone is going to get killed,” Cheney said. Fox hosts Laura Ingraham, Brian Kilmeade and Sean Hannity each told Trump through Meadows to call off the mob, Cheney said. The president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., said “it has gone too far and has gotten out of hand,” Cheney said.
“The text messages leave no doubt that White House knew what was happening,” Cheney said.
Terwilliger had told the committee earlier Monday that referring the case to the Justice Department would be “contrary to law” because Meadows was acting in good faith to keep communications with Trump confidential under executive privilege.
“It would ill-serve the country to rush to judgment on the matter,” Terwilliger said in a seven-page letter to the committee.
‘NO CHOICE’:Mark Meadows sues Jan. 6 committee after it says it will pursue contempt citation
Meadows initially cooperated with the committee and provided documents, but has since refused to provide contested documents or appear for a deposition. Committee members said Meadows had no legitimate claim of executive privilege for questions covering the 9,000 documents he’s already provided.
A 51-page report prepared for the committee to vote on Monday alleged that Meadows provided no justification for claiming executive privilege and refused to answer questions unrelated to executive privilege.
“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 said. “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.”
On Wednesday, Meadows sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the committee in U.S. District Court by arguing the subpoena was “overly broad and unduly burdensome.” He also questioned the committee’s legitimacy and argued the committee “threatens to violate longstanding principles of executive privilege and immunity that are of constitutional origin and dimension.”
Trump is also fighting a subpoena for his administration’s documents at the National Archives and Records Administration. The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against Trump and in favor of the committee receiving the documents because President Joe Biden waived executive privilege. But Trump is expected to appeal to the Supreme Court.
The House committee scheduled a vote Monday evening to recommend the full House find Meadows in contempt for defying a subpoena for documents and testimony.
The full House must still vote on the contempt citation and the referral for criminal prosecution. Meadows could become the second Trump administration official prosecuted for contempt, along with political strategist Steve Bannon.
The committee has also recommended contempt and criminal prosecution of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. But a House vote on the measure was postponed because Clark is set to meet with the committee Thursday and refused to answer questions under his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Nearly 300 people have cooperated with the committee. The panel plans weeks of hearings next year on its findings about what led to the attack on the Capitol, which injured 140 police officers and temporarily halted the counting of Electoral College votes.
The committee seeks information from Meadows about:
Terwilliger told the committee the criminal contempt statute wasn’t intended to apply to good-faith assertions of executive privilege. Despite regular disagreements between the executive branch and Congress on issues of privilege and withholding documents, the law wasn’t used against an executive branch official for 125 years after its passage – until 1982.
“The criminal contempt of Congress statute was originally passed as a supplement to Congress’s inherent contempt powers, specifically to allow imprisonment of a contemptuous witness when the legislative session ended,” Terwilliger said. “The inherent contempt power – predecessor of the criminal contempt power – was never used against a member of the executive branch who asserted executive privilege.”
Terwilliger contrasted the Meadows case with an allegation of failing to file an income tax form by arguing Meadows made a good-faith effort to enforce the confidentiality of executive privilege rather than intentionally commit wrongdoing.
“This is unlike a case where an individual intentionally defies a lawful subpoena on the advice of counsel,” Terwilliger said.
Terwilliger also argued executive privilege protects the institution of the presidency, rather than a specific occupant such as Trump.
“These protections do not exist for the personal benefit of any executive advisor, but to protect the institution of the Presidency,” Terwilliger said. “The immunity from compulsion must also extend to former aides for if mere passage of office from one administration to the next extinguished the privilege, it would be no privilege at all.”
Judges on the appeals panel that heard Trump’s case noted that conflict between administrations, but they ruled that the current president’s view of executive privilege outweighs a former president.
The committee report alleged Meadows hasn’t provided any justification for a claim of executive privilege.
“Mr. Meadows has refused to provide the Select Committee with information and testimony that has no conceivable, associated privilege claims,” the committee report said.
‘This too shall pass away’ this famous Persian adage seems to be defeating us again and again in the case of COVID-19. Despite every effort