House votes to hold defiant Meadows in criminal contempt
House lawmakers voted Tuesday to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress as the special committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol released a second batch of text messages from allies begging Meadows to try to convince then-President Trump to stop the violent insurrection.
“It’s really bad up here on the hill,” one unidentified GOP lawmaker texted Meadows that day.
“The President needs to stop this asap,” texted another GOP lawmaker.
“Fix this now,” wrote a third Republican.
Tuesday’s vote was 222 to 208, with 2 Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), crossing the aisle to join every Democrat in supporting the measure.
The House’s action refers Meadows to the Justice Department on criminal contempt charges for refusing to testify before the select committee probing the Jan. 6 attack. Meadows had provided thousands of pages of documents to investigators, then refused the panel’s request, under subpoena, to talk about them. It was that recalcitrance that prompted the contempt vote.
“It’s a two-part test in order to show compliance with our work: one is the production of documents; the second is sitting for a deposition or interview,” said Rep. Pete Aguilar (D-Calif.), a member of the Jan. 6 panel. “Mr. Meadows fulfilled one, but he did not fulfill the other.”
Meadows, who led the far-right House Freedom Caucus when he served in the lower chamber, becomes the second person in Trump’s orbit to be held in contempt by the House. In October, nine House Republicans joined all Democrats to vote to hold former Trump adviser Stephen Bannon in contempt; weeks later, a federal grand jury indicted Bannon for failing to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 panel. His trial is scheduled to start in July.
The stonewalling — and the long delay in Bannon’s case — has raised questions about whether Trump’s allies will be able to run out the clock on the select committee’s investigation, particularly in light of the certainty that Republicans would quickly end the probe if they win control of the House after next year’s midterm elections.
But Aguilar dismissed those concerns on Tuesday, saying an overwhelming majority of witnesses are cooperating while vowing that the panel will have a report finalized and released next year before those elections.
“Just because you see a couple people who are not cooperating, that’s not accurate because there are … hundreds that are,” he said.
Aguilar said the committee has been in ongoing discussions with Meadows’s attorney and that the panel is willing to hear his story if he has another change of heart and agrees to cooperate. But Democrats aren’t holding their breath for that reversal, noting that Meadows’s initial cooperation had angered Trump, who remains a kingmaker in the GOP.
“It’s certainly our hope that Mark Meadows will cooperate,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus. “But when the cult leader speaks, the cult members usually fall in line.”
Meadows has handed over more than 9,000 pages of text messages, emails and other correspondence related to the GOP’s effort on Jan. 6 to overturn President Biden’s election victory. But Meadows and his legal team have argued that he does not need to sit for a deposition because his former boss, Trump, has claimed executive privilege.
“The executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is his to waive,” Meadows said Monday in an interview with Fox News’s Sean Hannity. “It’s not mine to waive. It’s not Congress’s to wave.”
House lawmakers were unpersuaded, saying that the Jan. 6 committee needed to ask Meadows about thousands of pages of records he voluntarily turned over and that a number of his actions related to the Jan. 6 push could not be considered privileged.
Meadows “provided roughly 9,000 pages of records that he and his attorney freely admit cannot be held back by any sort of privilege claim. … His participation in a January phone call aimed at pressuring state legislators to overturn election results, that’s not protected by executive privilege,” Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Jan. 6 panel, testified in a House Rules Committee hearing on Tuesday.
“His communications with the Georgia secretary of state regarding efforts to disrupt the election, that’s not protected. The list goes on and on.”
The Jan. 6 panel’s vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), read the second batch of Meadows text messages during Tuesday’s Rules hearing. A day earlier, Cheney read a string of text messages sent to Meadows from allies inside and outside the Capitol pleading with him to try to stop the violence.
Among those he received were texts from a trio of Fox News hosts — Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade — Donald Trump Jr., GOP lawmakers, reporters and other Trump administration officials.
“He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP,” Trump’s eldest son texted Meadows as the attack was underway.
“I’m pushing it hard. I agree,” Meadows replied.
But when Trump still had not told the rioters to stop, his son reached out again to Meadows.
“We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now,” Trump Jr. texted. “It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
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