The House select committee investigating the 6 January insurrection will begin the process of seeking criminal contempt of Congress charges against one of their former colleagues – ex-Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows – after he failed to appear for a scheduled deposition on Wednesday.
In a letter to Mr Meadows’s attorney, George Terwilliger, that was obtained by The Independent, select committee chairman Bennie Thompson noted that Mr Meadows’s failure to appear comes just one day after his book, The Chief’s Chief, went on sale. The book contains numerous descriptions of conversations with former President Donald Trump that legal experts say constitutes a waiver of any claims of executive privilege that Mr Meadows could make to try avoiding having to answer questions.
“That he would sell his telling of the facts of that day while denying a congressional committee the opportunity to ask him about the attack on our Capitol marks an historic and aggressive defiance of Congress ... Mr. Meadows has rejected the opportunity to cure his non-compliance and made it clear that he does not intend to participate in a deposition,” he wrote.
“There is no legitimate legal basis for Mr. Meadows to refuse to cooperate with the Select Committee and answer questions about the documents he produced, the personal devices and accounts he used, the events he wrote about in his newly released book,1 and, among other things, his other public statements,” Mr Thompson continued. “The Select Committee is left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.”
In his Monday letter to committee members Mr Terwilliger had wrote that his client would decline to appear because, in his estimation, the select committee had “no intention of respecting boundaries concerning Executive Privilege”.
But according to Mr Thompson, committee members planned to ask Mr Meadows, who represented North Carolina’s 11th district from 2013-2020, about non-privileged documents he had already turned over to the committee in response to its subpoena, including “a November 7, 2020, email discussing the appointment of alternate slates of electors as part of a ‘direct and collateral attack’ after the election; a 5 January, 2021, email regarding a 38-page PowerPoint briefing titled ‘Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN’ that was to be provided ‘on the hill’; and ... a January 5, 2021, email about having the ‘National Guard on standby”.
Other documents described by Mr Thompson include “an early January 2021 text message exchange between Mr. Meadows and an organiser of the January 6th rally on the Ellipse; and text messages about the need for the former President to issue a public statement that could have stopped the January 6th attack on the Capitol”.
“All of those documents raise issues about which the Select Committee would like to question Mr. Meadows and about which you appear to agree are not subject to a claim of privilege. Yet, despite your recent agreement to have Mr. Meadows to come in and answer questions in a deposition, Mr. Meadows now, once again, refuses to do so ... the Select Committee has tried repeatedly to identify with specificity the areas of inquiry that Mr. Meadows believes are protected by a claim of executive privilege, but neither you nor Mr. Meadows has meaningfully provided that information,” he said, adding later that Mr Meadows’ attorney’s “identification of executive privilege issues with documents that came from Mr Meadows’ personal email account and personal cell phone raises the question of whether these materials have been transferred to the National Archives in compliance with the Presidential Records Act”.
“The Select Committee planned to ask Mr Meadows questions during a deposition that are relevant to the investigation, while giving Mr Meadows the opportunity to answer those questions or assert a claim of privilege on a question-by-question basis. That is not a lack of respect for the boundaries of executive privilege but rather an appreciation for the proper process for asserting any protective privilege,” Mr Thompson said.
Legal experts also say that Mr Meadows has no right to invoke the privilege as a basis for his refusal to answer questions because it is President Joe Biden – not Mr Trump nor Mr Meadows – who decides whether executive privilege can be used to shield documents from or testimony by a former president’s advisers.
Mr Biden has so far declined to do so, citing what White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki has called the “unique and extraordinary” circumstances presented by the worst attack on America’s seat of government since the War of 1812, resulting in the first non-peaceful transfer of power in American history.
In a letter sent to Mr Terwilliger last month, White House deputy counsel Jonathan Su informed the attorney that Mr Biden would not be asserting any privileges or immunities over anything requested by the committee.
The committee has already approved contempt citations against former Justice Department attorney Jeffrey Clark and ex-White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the latter of whom is set to be tried in a District of Columbia federal court on two counts of criminal contempt of congress next summer. If convicted on both counts, Mr Bannon could face up to two years in jail.
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