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Jan. 6 committee threatens to hold former Trump aide Mark Meadows in contempt after he backs out of deal to cooperate

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Mark Meadows’s cooperation with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection appears to be over as quickly as it started.

Just one week after the committee announced it had reached an agreement with Donald Trump’s former chief of staff to produce records and appear for an initial deposition, Fox News reported Tuesday morning that Meadows and his attorney were planning to notify lawmakers on the House panel that they could not reach an understanding on how to work together.

“We have made efforts over many weeks to reach an accommodation with the committee,” Meadows’s attorney George Terwilliger told Fox News, explaining that Meadows had been willing to appear voluntarily to answer questions that he believed were not covered by executive privilege. However, Terwilliger said that over the weekend, the committee made clear it was also planning to look into material that Meadows considered privileged, pointing to a subpoena that had been issued to a third party for Meadows’s cellphone records.

Meadows was scheduled to appear before the select committee on Wednesday. In a statement issued Tuesday afternoon, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., warned that they will go forward with the deposition as planned.

“If indeed Mr. Meadows refuses to appear, the Select Committee will be left no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution,” they said.

“Even as we litigate privilege issues, the Select Committee has numerous questions for Mr. Meadows about records he has turned over to the Committee with no claim of privilege, which include real-time communications with many individuals as the events of January 6th unfolded,” read the statement from Thompson and Cheney. “We also need to hear from him about voluminous official records stored in his personal phone and email accounts, which were required to be turned over to the National Archives in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”

Meadows is expected to appear on Sean Hannity’s Fox News show Tuesday evening.

Mark Meadows.
Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, at a “Make America Great Again” rally in Greenville, N.C., in October 2020. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images)

The select committee first subpoenaed Meadows in September, seeking documents and testimony regarding his role in Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election and stop the certification of Joe Biden’s win on Jan. 6. After Meadows failed to comply with the subpoena — citing Trump’s ongoing lawsuit to block the Jan. 6 investigators from accessing his White House records by claiming executive privilege — the committee threatened to refer him to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress.

President Biden has thus far waived executive privilege for records relevant to the committee’s investigation, and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled that Biden’s authority in this matter supersedes Trump’s, a position the select committee has adopted even as Trump seeks to have it reversed by a federal appeals court.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Trump’s former chief strategist Steve Bannon after he used the executive privilege excuse for defying his own subpoena from the select committee. At a court appearance in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, the judge overseeing Bannon’s contempt case set the date for his criminal trial to begin on July 18, 2022.

Last week, the panel voted to hold Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who reportedly helped Trump try to upend the election, in contempt of Congress for doing the same thing. The process of referring Clark to the Justice Department was temporarily put on hold after his attorney notified the committee that Clark intends to assert his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination.

President Trump and Mark Meadows.
Then-President Donald Trump and Meadows at the White House in October 2020. (Al Drago/File Photo via Reuters)

Asked about the possibility that his client could once again be facing a possible criminal referral for refusing to cooperate, Terwilliger told Fox News that he and Meadows will “cross that bridge when he come [sic] to it.”

Though Terwilliger blamed the executive privilege dispute for the dissolution of his client’s deal with the select committee, some noted that the news that Meadows no longer intends to work with House investigators follows reports that Trump has been fuming about his former aide’s new memoir. In Meadows’s new book, “The Chief’s Chief,” he says the then president tested positive for COVID-19 three days before his first presidential debate with Biden.

Meadows writes that Trump participated in the debate and other events despite knowing he had the coronavirus. Trump has denied the claim, calling it “fake news.”

Mark Meadows waving.
Meadows at a Trump campaign rally in Waukesha, Wis., on Oct. 24, 2020. (Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images)

The book, which went on sale Tuesday, suggests that the former president’s bout with COVID-19 was much more severe than Trump or White House medical officials admitted to the public at the time. Meadows writes that Trump’s blood oxygen level became “dangerously low,” and describes visiting him at the White House residence, where the president was lying in bed with an oxygen tank at his side, his hair “a mess” and “red streaks in his eyes.” Meadows says that Trump, whose fear of looking weak is well documented, told him, “I’ve lost so much strength. The muscles are just not responding.”

Meadows writes that he convinced Trump to go to Walter Reed National Military Medical Center by saying, “It’s better that you walk out of here today under your own strength, your own power, than for me to have to carry you out on a gurney in two days.” According to Meadows, Trump had planned to carry a briefcase onto the helicopter that would transport him to the hospital, but was so weak that he dropped the briefcase on his way out of the White House.

Elsewhere in the book, Meadows seems to try to downplay the then president’s role in the events of Jan. 6, when hundreds of Trump supporters violently stormed the U.S. Capitol, injuring more than 140 police officers and delaying the certification of Biden’s electoral win.

Though more than 700 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 attack, Meadows writes that just "a handful of fanatics" are to blame, and disputes critics who have accused Trump of encouraging his supporters to engage in violence at a rally shortly before the riot unfolded. He writes that Trump’s speech on Jan. 6, when he told supporters to “fight like hell,” was “more subdued than usual,” and claims that Trump was “speaking metaphorically” when he said he would join the crowd in marching on the Capitol to “cheer on” Republicans objecting to the Electoral College results. Some of the rioters have said they decided to march on the Capitol in part because of Trump’s pledge to go with them.

Thompson and Cheney referenced Meadows’s book in their statement Tuesday.

“Mark Meadows has informed the Select Committee that he does not intend to cooperate further with our investigation despite his apparent willingness to provide details about the facts and circumstances surrounding the January 6th attack, including conversations with President Trump, in the book he is now promoting and selling,” they said in their statement.

Meadows’s decision to back out of his agreement with the select committee comes amid new reports of cooperation between lawmakers and other former members of the Trump administration. On Monday, CNN reported that Marc Short, the former chief of staff to Vice President Mike Pence, is now assisting with the Jan. 6 probe, a sign of what one source described as the panel’s “significant cooperation with Team Pence.”

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