US panel recommends holding ex-Trump aide Meadows in contempt

Mark Meadows is the second Trump ally recommended for contempt. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - The committee investigating the Jan 6 insurrection at the US Capitol voted unanimously on Monday night (Dec 13) to recommend that the US House hold Donald Trump's last White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to testify.

The 9-0 recommendation and a report justifying the action now goes to the full House for a floor vote.

The House Rules Committee announced later Monday night that it would meet on Tuesday morning to establish procedures for that vote.

"The Select Committee's report referring Mr Meadows for criminal contempt charges is clear and compelling," Representative Bennie Thompson, chair of the House Select Committee on Jan. 6, said before the vote. "As White House chief of staff, Mr Meadows played a role in or was witness to key events leading up to and including the Jan 6th assault on the United States Capitol."

Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and the committee's vice chair, said text messages provided by Meadows leave "no doubt" the White House knew what was happening as the assault on the Capitol unfolded.

"As the violence continued," she added, Donald Trump Jr texted Meadows, saying of his father: "He's got to condemn this" and "it has gone too far."

Meadows responded that he agreed, she said, but "Still, President Trump did not immediately act."

The panel's contempt case against Meadows is outlined in a 51-page report and resolution that includes new details of activities and comments by former President Donald Trump, Meadows and others that the panel said are revealed in some of the thousands of emails and text messages that Meadows has already turned over, as well as other material.

Meadows's lawyer sought to head off the committee action earlier Monday, telling lawmakers in a letter that "Mr Meadows's choice to decline a deposition is an attempt to comply with his legal obligations as a former adviser to the president."

He argued Meadows, himself a former congressman, was making "a good-faith invocation of executive privilege and testimonial immunity."

In his remarks on Monday evening, Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said Meadows, after agreeing to cooperate with the inquiry, "changed his mind and told us to pound sand."

"This happened the same day his book was published," Thompson added. "The same book that goes into detail about matters the Select Committee is reviewing. It also details conversations he had with President Trump and others - conversations we want to hear more about."

Meadows is the second Trump ally recommended for contempt. Steve Bannon, a strategist in the Trump White House who also helped run the 2016 campaign, is set to go on trial in July on criminal contempt charges over his refusal to cooperate with the investigation.

In addition, Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official and Trump adviser, also faces potential House contempt action.

Although the committee didn't release the emails and texts Meadows provided, it does point to some of the contents in laying out what they want to ask Meadows.

That includes his direct knowledge of Trump actions and communications with members of Congress "before, during, and after the attack on the United States Capitol."

One item of interest is an email Meadows sent to an individual about the events on Jan 6 that said the National Guard would be present to "protect pro-Trump people" and that many more "would be available on standby."

The National Guard response on Jan 6 has been a major focus of congressional inquiries.

The committee report also states that Meadows received text messages and emails "regarding apparent efforts to encourage Republican legislators in certain States to send alternate slates of electors to Congress, a plan which one Member of Congress acknowledged was 'highly controversial' and to which Mr Meadows responded, 'I love it.'"

There also is information based on material the panel has about Meadows participating in a meeting that reportedly occurred on Dec 18, 2020, on proposals for challenging the 2020 election results, along with Trump and White House and campaign staff.

"During the meeting, the participants reportedly discussed purported foreign interference in the election, seizing voting machines, invoking certain Federal laws like the National Emergencies Act, and appointing one of the attendees as a special counsel with a Top Secret security clearance to investigate fraud in the election," the report says.

One text exchange in possession of the committee reflects a communication Meadows had with an unidentified senator, in which Meadows talked about the power he believed former Vice President Mike Pence had to reject presidential electors.

The report argues that Meadows and his lawyer are taking a legally inconsistent stance on his testimony because he's already turned over material to the investigation.

"Mr Meadows produced documents but still chose to withhold testimony," the committee says.

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