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House January 6 committee recommends contempt charges against Mark Meadows

Panel supports holding Meadows in contempt
Panel supports holding Meadows in contempt 07:37

Washington — The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol on Monday unanimously voted to recommend contempt charges against former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows for failing to comply with its subpoena. 

"A small group of people have gotten a lot of attention because of their defiance," Committee Chair Bennie Thompson said at a committee meeting to consider the move. "But many others have taken a different path and provided important information about January 6 and the context in which the riot occurred. Anyone who wants to cooperate with our investigation can do so. Nearly everyone has."

Meadows had earlier cooperated in part with the committee, handing over some email and text message records, but he failed to sit for a deposition last week and refused to turn over a slew of other documents, citing former President Donald Trump's claims of privilege. 

The panel's vice chair, Congresswoman Liz Cheney said in her opening remarks that the contempt vote was mainly related to Meadows' "refusal to testify about text messages and other communications that he admits are not privileged." She noted that although he didn't claim privilege based on this material, he was still refusing to testify about it. 

Cheney then read aloud some of the texts that Meadows received in what she referred to as the "187 minutes" when Trump "refused to act when action by our president was required, essential." There were text messages from Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., and Fox News hosts Brian Kilmeade, Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity — all imploring the president to act. The White House, she said, "knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol." They knew because all those messages were being sent by "members of Congress, the press and others" to Mark Meadows while the attack was happening.

According to Cheney, Trump Jr. "texted again and again, urging action by the president: 'We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.'"

She read the Fox News hosts' quotes: 

"Quote, 'Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy,'" Laura Ingraham wrote.

"'Please get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished,'" Brian Kilmeade texted.

"'Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol,'" Sean Hannity urged.

There were other texts, too, that appeared to have been written by people in the Capitol during the assault.

"'We are under siege up here at the Capitol,'" said one. Another read, "'They have breached the Capitol.'"

A third text, said Cheney: "'Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol. Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?'"

"A fourth: 'There's an armed standoff at the House Chamber door.'"

"And another, from someone inside the Capitol, 'We are all helpless.'"

Cheney said that "dozens of texts," including some from Trump administration officials, urged Trump to act. 

"Quote, 'POTUS has to come out firmly and tell protestors to dissipate. Someone is going to get killed,'" Cheney said. "In another, 'Mark, he needs to stop this. Now.'

"A third, in all caps, 'TELL THEM TO GO HOME.' A fourth, and I quote, 'POTUS needs to calm this [sh*t] down.'" 

She said that as the violence went on, she took note of another text exchange between Trump Jr. and Meadows: 

"'He's got to condemn this [sh*t] ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough,' Donald Trump, Jr. texted.

"Meadows responded, quote, 'I'm pushing it hard. I agree.'

"Still," Cheney said, "President Trump did not immediately act." She called the texts "evidence" of his "supreme dereliction of duty."

The nine-person, Democrat-run committee recommended that the House of Representatives find Meadows in contempt of Congress, as they did in October with Steve Bannon, who had not cooperated at all. 

Meadows appeared on Fox News on Monday night and said he found the vote "disappointing but not surprising."

Chief Of Staff Mark Meadows Briefs Media At The White House
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows talks to reporters at the White House on October 21, 2020 in Washington, DC. TASOS KATOPODIS / Getty Images

Representative Pete Aguilar, who is on the committee, said Monday night that the contempt vote will likely be brought before the full House for a vote on Tuesday.  

If the Democratic-controlled House votes to find him in contempt of Congress —  as they did with Bannon — the case would then be turned over to the Justice Department. If the Justice Department charges him, he could face up to a year in jail if found guilty. 

"History will record that in a critical moment in our democracy, most people were on the side of finding the truth, of providing accountability, of strengthening our system for future generations," Thompson said before the committee's vote. "And history will also record, in this critical moment, that some people were not." 

Meadows' attorney, George Terwilliger, argued in a letter to the committee on Monday that a contempt referral for Meadows "would be contrary to law, manifestly unjust, unwise, and unfair." He wrote that the contempt of Congress statute was never intended to apply to "good-faith" assertions of executive privilege, and that prosecuting a senior presidential aide would be "unwise" because it could damage the institution of the presidency.

But the committee's contempt report dismisses the privilege argument on the grounds that the sitting president, President Biden, has not exerted privilege over the records in question. They also noted that several of the documents Meadows already turned over would be in violation of the privilege claims if they were legitimate. 

Among the documents Meadows gave the committee was a PowerPoint presentation prepared by an outside adviser entitled "Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for JAN 6," which was initially intended to be distributed to members of Congress, Thompson noted in a letter to Terwilliger last week. 

Meadows also wrote in a January 5 email that the National Guard would be present in Washington the following day "to protect pro Trump people," according to the contempt report.

The contempt report also described a January 5 email in which Meadows said the National Guard would be present in Washington the following day "to protect pro Trump people." The committee wrote that Meadows said many more Guardsmen would be on standby, but it did not offer other details about the exchange. 

The committee also attached to the report a transcript of the questions they would have asked Meadows had he shown up. The transcript cited text messages between Meadows and a senator in which they discussed then Vice President Mike Pence's "power to reject electors" thereby potentially changing the outcome of the election. In one of the texts, Meadows "recounts a direct communication with President Trump who, according to Mr. Meadows in his text messages, quote, 'thinks the legislators have the power, but the VP has power too,' end quote."

Democratic leadership plans to bring the contempt resolution to the floor for consideration by the full House as soon as Tuesday. 

The House select committee, created by Speaker Nancy Pelosi earlier this year, is investigating  the January 6 attack, when thousands of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol as Congress counted the electoral votes, a largely ceremonial final step affirming President Biden's victory. Lawmakers were sent fleeing amid the riot, which led to the deaths of five people and the arrests of hundreds more. Trump, who encouraged his supporters to "walk over" to the Capitol during the Stop the Steal rally, was impeached by the House one week later for inciting the riot but was later acquitted by the Senate

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