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Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sues January 6 committee

Panel wants Mark Meadows held in contempt
Panel wants Mark Meadows held in contempt 06:32

Washington — Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is suing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the members of the House January 6 Committee.

The lawsuit filed Wednesday asks a federal court in Washington, D.C. to nullify subpoenas issued by the committee for Meadows' testimony and his phone records, which are held by Verizon. Meadows, who was former President Donald Trump's chief of staff, is arguing that the demand for his cooperation with Congress is "overly broad and unduly burdensome." 

The lawsuit comes on the heels of Meadows' refusal to appear for a scheduled deposition Wednesday before the committee Pelosi has tasked with investigating the January 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, an apparent preemptive strategy to potentially delay contempt proceedings. 

Meadows informed the committee Tuesday that he would no longer cooperate with its investigation, as he faced the threat of criminal contempt of Congress charges if he didn't appear for his deposition.

In the court filing, Meadows argues the committee's demands, "absent any valid legislative power," may result in "grave harms" — namely that he could be "illegally coerced into violating the Constitution" in failing to comply with former President Trump's claims of executive privilege. 

The former president has called on the dozens of former staffers called to testify before the Committee to exert executive privilege and refuse to cooperate, based on the idea that presidential communications should remain confidential. 

"Mr. Meadows, a witness, has been put in the untenable position of choosing between conflicting privilege claims that are of constitutional origin and dimension and having to either risk enforcement of the subpoena issued to him" the complaint reads, "or, alternatively, unilaterally abandoning the former president's claims of privileges and immunities."

The former White House chief of staff claims he has worked in "good faith" since receiving the select committee's subpoena in September.

"Despite the need to maintain executive privilege and concerns about the breadth of the subpoena, Mr. Meadows continued to pursue the possibility of an accommodation that would allow the Select Committee to obtain non-privileged information," the lawsuit alleges. 

Meadows pointed out that he had handed over thousands of records to the committee, including "1,139 documents and 6,836 total pages" — all non-privileged — and "2,319 text messages and metadata from his personal cell phone." 

Nevertheless, Congressman Bennie Thompson, the Committee's chairman, told Meadows' lawyer in a letter dated Tuesday that a failure to appear Wednesday's deposition would mean the committee is "left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution."

Meadows' lawsuit, however, questioned Thompson's power to issue subpoenas.

The subpoenas at issue, Meadows contends, are "an unconstitutional attempt to usurp the Executive Branch's authority to enforce the law and to expose what the Select Committee believes to be problematic actions by a political opponent. Congress has no authority to issue subpoenas for these purposes."

As for the committee's subpoena of records held by Verizon, the "subscriber information and cell phone data associated with Mr. Meadows's personal cell phone number," Meadows argues the committee's demand for this material "violates his right to free association and chills the exercise of free speech rights."

The January 6 select committee has issued subpoenas to 45 individuals and groups it believes have knowledge about the events surrounding the attack on the U.S. Capitol, during which a mob of Trump's supporters attempted to stop Congress from affirming the tally of each state's electoral votes.

Meadows was in the earliest group of former White House aides and allies of the former president to receive a subpoena from the House panel, which has asked for documents and testimony.

In a September letter asking Meadows to turn over information, Thompson said Meadows has "critical information regarding elements" of the committee's investigation because he was with Trump on January 6 and communicated with him and others about events at the Capitol. 

Documents filed with the committee, as well as records made public as part of separate probes by the House and Senate, also show Meadows communicated with top officials at the Justice Department about allegations of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election and pushed for states to investigate fraud claims. 

Ellis Kim and Zachary Hudak contributed to this report.

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