Meadows to cooperate with Jan. 6 probe, averting contempt charges

Donald Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has agreed to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, avoiding a referral for criminal contempt of Congress.

“Mr. Meadows has been engaging with the Select Committee through his attorney. He has produced records to the committee and will soon appear for an initial deposition,” the committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement Tuesday. “The Select Committee expects all witnesses, including Mr. Meadows, to provide all information requested and that the Select Committee is lawfully entitled to receive. The committee will continue to assess his degree of compliance with our subpoena after the deposition.”

The development was first reported by CNN.

Mark Meadows
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. (Al Drago/File photo via Reuters)

Thompson had previously threatened to refer Meadows to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress after he failed to comply with a subpoena issued by the select committee in September. The subpoena required Meadows to provide testimony and documents related to various aspects of the investigation, including his personal communications from Jan. 6 as well as his reported involvement in Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election and in planning for the rally on Jan. 6, where the then president spoke to hundreds of supporters before they violently stormed the Capitol building, delaying Congress’s certification of Biden’s electoral victory.

Though his attorneys had reportedly been engaging with the committee for months, Meadows ultimately declined to turn over subpoenaed documents by the committee’s previous deadline and he was a no-show for a scheduled deposition, citing Trump’s ongoing lawsuit to block the Jan. 6 investigators from accessing his White House records by claiming executive privilege.

Bennie Thompson, right, and Adam Schiff
Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack, is flanked by committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

President Biden has thus far waived executive privilege for records relevant to the select committee’s investigation, including those requested from Meadows, and a federal judge in Washington, D.C., has ruled that Biden’s authority in this matter supersedes Trump’s. But Trump has continued to fight the House probe in court. On Tuesday morning, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit heard oral arguments in the former president’s appeal to keep his White House records secret. The arguments were ongoing when the news of Meadows’s cooperation with the committee first broke, but the judges expressed skepticism about whether Trump has the authority to overrule a sitting president.

“We only have one president at a time under our Constitution,” said Judge Patricia Millett and Judge Robert Wilkins were both appointed by former President Barack Obama, while Ketanji Brown Jackson, the third judge on the panel, was appointed by Biden.

The committee has rejected Trump’s claims of executive privilege and has moved to impose consequences against others in his inner circle who have similarly refused to cooperate with the probe. Earlier this month, former Trump aide Steve Bannon was indicted by a federal grand jury on two criminal counts stemming from his failure to comply with the select committee’s subpoena. And on Wednesday, members of the House panel will vote to pursue criminal contempt charges against former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark for doing the same. Over the weekend, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., a member of the select committee, said a decision would be made this week on whether to refer Meadows for criminal contempt charges as well.

“Mark Meadows has a legal and moral obligation to cooperate with our committee,” Schiff said on Twitter Tuesday. “I’m glad he has now agreed to appear and has already provided documents. We will evaluate the extent of his compliance after his testimony.”

Steve Bannon, right
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon arrives at the Washington field office of the FBI to turn himself in, Nov. 15, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

While Meadows’s decision to engage with the committee has temporarily shielded him from criminal charges, he’s not completely in the clear.

A statement provided by Meadows’s attorney to CNN suggests that he may still argue that certain pieces of information sought by the committee are covered by executive privilege, raising questions about the extent of his cooperation.

“As we have from the beginning, we continue to work with the Select Committee and its staff to see if we can reach an accommodation that does not require Mr. Meadows to waive Executive Privilege or to forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress,” read the statement from Meadows’s lawyer, George Terwilliger. “We appreciate the Select Committee’s openness to receiving voluntary responses on non-privileged topics.”

Unlike Bannon, who left his role at the White House in 2017, both Clark and Meadows were serving as officials in the Trump administration on Jan. 6, potentially making their cases for executive privilege more convincing.