Meadows moves to center of Jan. 6 probe
As House investigators charge ahead with their probe into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, their focus has shifted to a contentious former colleague they increasingly see as a crucial witness: Mark Meadows.
Former President Trump’s ex-chief of staff, Meadows turned over thousands of text messages, emails and other correspondences — sent and received by GOP lawmakers, Trump family members and Jan. 6 organizers — that have illuminated behind-the-scenes events before and during the deadly insurrection.
Those messages included shocking pleas from Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump, Jr., and leading conservative superstars at Fox News, all of whom were texting Meadows during the Capitol siege in hopes he could convince the president to talk the rioters into leaving the building peacefully — an explosive disclosure that was publicized only Monday night by the select committee investigating the attack.
The trove of documents, delivered to the select committee in recent weeks, reveals that Meadows played a pivotal role in the planning of the failed effort by some Trump supporters to overturn the results of President Biden’s election victory, either through Congress or other means.
Yet Meadows, a former House lawmaker from North Carolina, has refused to appear before the panel to discuss those communications. And he’s also declined to submit any documents related to his correspondences with Trump himself, citing the executive privilege powers of the former president. That stonewalling has created plenty of holes in the narrative of Jan. 6, particularly when it comes to Trump’s actions — gaps the investigators want filled in as soon as possible.
“As the White House chief of staff, he was communicating with members of Congress, with members of the press, with the president’s family directly on the 6th; he was communicating with the organizers,” said a congressional source familiar with the Jan. 6 probe.
“If you want to know what Trump was doing as the Capitol was under attack, you have to understand what was happening at the White House, what Mark Meadows was doing, who he was communicating with, and what he was telling Donald Trump.”
Though Meadows has volunteered reams of information to investigators, the special Jan. 6 panel on Monday night voted to recommend that he be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify before the panel. That sets up a vote by the full House on Tuesday to refer Meadows to the Justice Department for prosecution, making him the second member of Trump’s inner circle under threat of criminal charges for noncooperation, after Stephen Bannon was found in contempt in October.
Meadows is no stranger to controversy. The former four-term Tea Party lawmaker arrived in Congress in 2013 and quickly built a reputation as a conservative firebrand willing to challenge his own leadership. As a leader of the far-right House Freedom Caucus, he helped to send then-Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) into an early retirement in 2015, then fought successfully to block Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the House minority leader, from succeeding him.
Meadows is fond of saying that he’s always calculating his next move, a strategy he’s likened to playing “10-dimensional chess.” In Congress, his sharp-elbowed tactics — and his devotion to Trump — won him praise from fellow Trump loyalists and ultimately landed him a job in the West Wing as Trump’s right-hand man.
But he has infuriated Democrats, the Republican brass and more moderate lawmakers in the GOP, who characterize him as an unscrupulous operator hell-bent on advancing his own personal interests at the expense of anyone who stands in his way.
A 51-page report released Sunday by the select House committee investigating the Capitol attack uncovered a host of details about Meadow’s actions on and around Jan. 6, revealing that he was on the front lines of the campaign to keep Trump in office against the wishes of voters. Among the most striking revelations:
• One email from Jan. 5 revealed that Meadows wanted to call up the National Guard, not to protect members of Congress but to “protect pro Trump people” protesting the election results.
• Meadows received text messages and emails about a push to encourage GOP state legislators to send to Congress alternate slates of electors who favored Trump over Biden. One member of Congress called the plan “highly controversial”; Meadows responded: “I love it.”
• The documents show Meadows used personal Gmail accounts, a Signal account and a personal cellphone to conduct official business as White House chief of staff. The Jan. 6 panel said it would have asked Meadows about emails to Justice Department leaders from Dec. 29 to Jan. 1 encouraging probes of suspected voter fraud, claims that had been rejected by federal investigators and the courts.
• Meadows traveled to Georgia to observe an audit of the votes, a trip that the Jan. 6 panel says precipitated Trump’s call to the Georgia secretary of state directing him to find enough votes to put him ahead of Biden. Meadows participated in the call.
• On Dec. 12, Meadows sent and received text messages from a prominent media personality about the negative impact of Trump’s election challenges on the Senate runoff elections in Georgia, as well as Meadows’s possible employment by a news network.
“Mr. Meadows has shown his willingness to talk about issues related to the Select Committee’s investigation across a variety of media platforms — anywhere, it seems, except to the Select Committee,” the Jan. 6 panel wrote in its report.
The Jan. 6 panel is also poring over a 38-page PowerPoint presentation that detailed “Options for 6 JAN” and was circulated by Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel who was working with Trump aides to promote debunked voter fraud claims. That presentation made its way to Meadows’s email box on Jan. 5, days after Waldron met with Meadows at the White House.
One of those options was for Trump to declare a national security emergency and seize paper ballots. Waldron told The Washington Post he met with Meadows “maybe eight to 10 times” before the Jan. 6 riot; Meadows’s attorney George Terwilliger say he doesn’t believe his client did anything with the PowerPoint.
And in a seven-page letter to the Jan. 6 committee on Monday, Terwilliger argued that executive privilege covers former executive branch officials and that Congress’s criminal referral of Meadows would be “contrary to law” and precedent.
“Mr. Meadows’s choice to decline a deposition is an attempt to comply with his legal obligations as a former advisor to the president. History and the law teach that this attempt is not a crime,” Terwilliger wrote to the committee.
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