House Set to Refer Contempt Charge Against Meadows in Jan. 6 Inquiry

The former White House chief of staff previously provided the committee with thousands of pages of documents, including text messages he received on Jan. 6.,


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WASHINGTON — The House was poised on Tuesday to recommend holding Mark Meadows, who served as chief of staff to former President Donald J. Trump, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with its investigation into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, escalating a legal battle against a potentially crucial witness in a widening inquiry.

The vote would send the matter to the Justice Department to consider whether to prosecute Mr. Meadows, who would be the first former member of Congress to be held in contempt of the body he once served in nearly 200 years, according to congressional aides.

But while the action indicates a stalemate between Mr. Meadows and the panel, his initial cooperation — including around 9,000 pages of documents he turned over before refusing to participate further — has already given the committee its first substantial burst of momentum and political traction as it presses forward to try to establish a full accounting of the events that led to the deadly riot.

More revelations from Mr. Meadows came out on Tuesday in advance of the vote, as Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chairwoman of the committee, read aloud text messages that Republicans in Congress sent to Mr. Meadows on Jan. 6 as violence engulfed the Capitol.


Representative Liz Cheney, the vice chairwoman of the committee, on Tuesday read aloud more text messages Mr. Meadows received on Jan. 6.Credit…Stefani Reynolds for The New York Times

“It’s really bad up here on the hill,” one said.

“The President needs to stop this asap,” another implored.

“Fix this now,” another said.

Ms. Cheney said Mr. Trump ignored their cries for help.

“As the violence was underway on the sixth, it was evident to all, but we know that for 187 minutes, President Trump refused to act,” she said. “And he refused to act when his action was required, it was essential, and it was compelled by his duty, compelled by his oath of office.”

Understand the U.S. Capitol Riot

On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol.

What Happened: Here’s the most complete picture to date of what happened — and why.Timeline of Jan. 6: A presidential rally turned into a Capitol rampage in a critical two-hour time period. Here’s how.Key Takeaways: Here are some of the major revelations from The Times’s riot footage analysis.Death Toll: Five people died in the riot. Here is what we know about them.Decoding the Riot Iconography: What do the symbols, slogans and images on display during the violence really mean?

Mr. Meadows and his lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III, vigorously protested the charge on Tuesday before the House action. Mr. Terwilliger said that Mr. Meadows never “stopped cooperating” with the committee, noting that he had filed suit against the panel and asked for a court ruling to determine the validity of Mr. Trump’s assertions of executive privilege over the material under subpoena.

“He has fully cooperated as to documents in his possession that are not privileged and has sought various means to provide other information while continuing to honor the former president’s privilege claims,” Mr. Terwilliger said, pointing out that his client had provided the panel with voluminous evidence.

On Monday, the committee voted 9 to 0 to recommend that Mr. Meadows be charged with criminal contempt of Congress. Mr. Meadows said later in an interview with the Fox News host Sean Hannity that the vote against him was “disappointing but not surprising.” He argued the committee was focusing solely on Mr. Trump at the expense of security lapses at the Capitol.

“I’ve tried to share non-privileged information,” he said. “But truly the executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is his to waive. It’s not mine to waive.”

The documents Mr. Meadows has furnished have shown that he played a far more substantial role in plans to try to overturn the 2020 election than was previously known. They also revealed that he was aware of the gravity of the violence unfolding in the Capitol on Jan. 6 in real time and received multiple pleas — including from prominent conservative figures, Republican lawmakers and even members of the Trump family — to get Mr. Trump to urge the mob invading the Capitol in his name to stand down.

At a meeting Monday night before the select committee approved the contempt referral, Ms. Cheney read aloud text messages sent to Mr. Meadows by the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. and by Fox News hosts, including Mr. Hannity, pressing for Mr. Trump to speak out amid the mob violence.

Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry

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A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt by Mr. Trump to keep personal records secret and the indictment of Stephen K. Bannon for contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:

What is executive privilege? It is a power claimed by presidents under the Constitution to prevent the other two branches of government from gaining access to certain internal executive branch information, especially confidential communications involving the president or among his top aides.

What is Trump’s claim? Former President Trump has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the disclosure of White House files related to his actions and communications surrounding the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. He argues that these matters must remain a secret as a matter of executive privilege.

Is Trump’s privilege claim valid? The constitutional line between a president’s secrecy powers and Congress’s investigative authority is hazy. Though a judge rejected Mr. Trump’s bid to keep his papers secret, it is likely that the case will ultimately be resolved by the Supreme Court.

Is executive privilege an absolute power? No. Even a legitimate claim of executive privilege may not always prevail in court. During the Watergate scandal in 1974, the Supreme Court upheld an order requiring President Richard M. Nixon to turn over his Oval Office tapes.

May ex-presidents invoke executive privilege? Yes, but courts may view their claims with less deference than those of current presidents. In 1977, the Supreme Court said Nixon could make a claim of executive privilege even though he was out of office, though the court ultimately ruled against him in the case.

Is Steve Bannon covered by executive privilege? This is unclear. Mr. Bannon’s case could raise the novel legal question of whether or how far a claim of executive privilege may extend to communications between a president and an informal adviser outside of the government.

What is contempt of Congress? It is a sanction imposed on people who defy congressional subpoenas. Congress can refer contempt citations to the Justice Department and ask for criminal charges. Mr. Bannon has been indicted on contempt charges for refusing to comply with a subpoena that seeks documents and testimony.

“He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP,” the younger Mr. Trump texted Mr. Meadows, according to the messages he turned over to the panel.

“I’m pushing it hard,” Mr. Meadows responded. “I agree.”

In another message, the younger Mr. Trump implored Mr. Meadows: “We need an Oval address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”

Fox News host Laura Ingraham sent her own plea. “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” she wrote to Mr. Meadows, adding, “He is destroying his legacy.”

That night, Ms. Ingraham had a far different message on her broadcast, suggesting that antifa, a loose collective of antifascist activists, may have played a role in the violence, and saying that the Capitol had been “under siege by people who can only be described as antithetical to the MAGA movement.”

The committee has heard testimony from more than 300 witnesses, and additional ones are scheduled to appear this week. On three occasions, the panel has moved to hold allies of Mr. Trump in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with its subpoenas.

Mr. Meadows could now find himself facing a criminal charge similar to another of Mr. Trump’s associates, Stephen K. Bannon, who was indicted by a federal grand jury last month after the House voted to recommend that he be found in contempt for refusing to cooperate with the committee. His trial is scheduled for next summer.

Aides said the vote on Tuesday would be the first time the House had voted to hold one of its former members in criminal contempt since Sam Houston, a former representative from Tennessee, was convicted of the charge in the 1830s after beating a member of Congress with his wooden cane.

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