The House select committee investigating the Capitol attack on Monday voted to recommend the criminal prosecution for former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, punishing Donald Trump’s most senior aide for refusing to testify about the 6 January insurrection.
The select committee advanced the contempt of Congress report for Meadows unanimously, sending the matter to a vote before the full House of Representatives, which is expected to approve the citation as soon as Tuesday.
Bennie Thompson, the chair of the select committee, said in an opening statement before the panel recommended Meadows’ referral to the justice department that Trump’s former White House chief of staff displayed willful noncompliance in his defiance of his subpoena.
“It comes down to this,” Thompson said. “Mr Meadows started by doing the right thing: cooperating. He handed over records that he didn’t try to shield behind some excuse. But in an investigation like ours, that’s just a first step.
“When the records raise questions – as these most certainly do – you have to come in and answer those questions. And when it was time for him to follow the law, come in, and testify on those questions, he changed his mind and told us to pound sand. He didn’t even show up.”
The select committee said in the contempt report they were seeking charges against Meadows after he attempted to obstruct the investigation in myriad ways, from refusing to testify to frustrating their efforts to locate and discover documents relevant to the Capitol attack.
The select committee also said Meadows should be prosecuted since he refused to testify even about information he voluntarily provided to the panel through his own document production and conceded were not covered by claims of executive privilege advanced by Trump.
Over the course of a near-hour-long business meeting, the select committee outlined in detail the materials Meadows had turned over to the panel – and how Meadows then promptly refused to testify about those very records.
Meadows turned over about 9,000 documents as part of a cooperation deal, the select committee said, in his effort to engage with the inquiry to a degree in order to avoid an immediate criminal referral that befell other Trump administration aides who defied subpoenas.
Among the materials Meadows turned over to the select committee was a PowerPoint presentation titled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference and Options for 6 JAN”, which recommended Trump declare a national security emergency to unilaterally return himself to office.
He also turned over text messages – read out loud by the select committee’s vice chair, Liz Cheney – that he received as the 6 January riot unfolded, including from Trump’s eldest son, Don Jr, who implored him “we need an Oval Office address” to stop the Capitol attack.
Meadows received more texts, the select committee said, from an unnamed lawmaker, who messaged him the day after the Capitol attack: “Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked.”
But his cooperation with the select committee ended with the document production and Meadows informed the panel last week that he would not answer questions because he had learned that House investigators had subpoenaed call detail records for his personal phone.
The select committee said Meadows’ refusal to testify constituted noncompliance with his subpoena, which was first issued in September, and initiated proceedings to recommend that the House hold him in contempt of Congress.
The move by the select committee poses damaging consequences for Trump’s most senior aide: if it is approved by the House, the justice department is required to take the matter before a grand jury, which previously indicted Trump strategist Steve Bannon for subpoena defiance.
A successful contempt prosecution could result in up to a year in federal prison, $100,000 in fines, or both – although the misdemeanor charge may not ultimately lead to his cooperation, and pursuing the offense could still take years.
The select committee targeted Meadows from the outset of the investigation as it sought to uncover the extent of his role in Trump’s scheme to subvert the results of the 2020 election and stop the certification of Joe Biden’s election win from taking place on 6 January.
The Guardian previously reported, for instance, that hours before the Capitol attack, Trump made a call from the White House to operatives working from the Willard hotel in Washington DC and pressed them about stopping Biden from being named president.
But House investigators said in a 51-page contempt report for Meadows that they had also wanted to question him about a range of issues about the 6 January insurrection, including an email he sent that said the national guard would be there to “protect pro Trump people”.
The select committee said they wanted to ask about text messages and emails about having state legislatures send Trump slates of electors to Congress – a plan that one congressman told him was “highly controversial”, to which Meadows responded: “I love it.”
House investigators said in the contempt report that they wanted to depose Meadows about texts he sent in December 2020 about installing the Trump justice department official Jeffrey Clark as acting attorney general, as well as texts to organizers of the 6 January rally.
The select committee said it also had questions about why Meadows used a personal cellphone, an encrypted Signal messaging app and two personal Gmail accounts for official business – and whether their contents had been turned over to the National Archives.
Counsel for the select committee noted additionally that it was untenable for Meadows to claim executive privilege protection as a way to dodge testifying before the panel after he wrote about potentially privileged conversations with Trump in his new book.
“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 panel said in the contempt report.
During the contempt vote, the select committee beamed screenshots of texts he had received on his personal cellphone from lawmakers on 6 January and, crucially, a passage from his book that described a private conversation he had with Trump as rioters breached the Capitol.
The select committee showed Meadows wrote in his book: “When he got offstage, President Trump let me know that he had been speaking metaphorically about the walk to the Capitol. He knew as well as anyone that we couldn’t organize a trip like that on such short notice.”
The move to recommend Meadows’ criminal prosecution marks the third such instance by the select committee, after it first approved a contempt of Congress citation against Bannon in October, and then against Clark last month, for defying subpoenas.