The House select committee investigating the 6 January insurrection will begin contempt proceedings against former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows unless he appears at a previously scheduled deposition on Wednesday.
On Monday, Mr Meadows’ attorney notified committee members that the former North Carolina congressman would halt all attempts to cooperate with the investigation of the worst attack on the Capitol since the 1814 Burning of Washington because the committee had issued “wide ranging subpoenas for information from a third party communications provider”.
In a statement, select committee chairman Bennie Thompson and vice chair Liz Cheney said committee members “need to hear from him about voluminous official records stored in his personal phone and email accounts, which were required to be turned over to the National Archives in accordance with the Presidential Records Act.”
They added that they committee has “numerous questions” for Mr Meadows about records he has turned over that could not be subject to claims of executive privilege, a legal doctrine which shields communications between and among a president and his advisers.
Those records, Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney said, “include real-time communications with many individuals” which took place as a mob of former president Donald Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol in hopes of preventing congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Mr Meadows has steadfastly refused to answer questions about whether he used a private mobile phone to conduct business that day – a tactic frequently used by former Trump administration officials to circumvent federal record keeping laws – or tell committee members where any emails or text messages he sent or received on that phone are currently located.
But at least one witness who is cooperating with the investigation – Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger – has told committee members that he received text messages which came from a private email account belonging to the then-White House chief of staff.
Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney also noted that Mr Meadows’ refusal to cooperate comes at the same time he appears willing “provide details about the facts and circumstances surrounding the January 6th attack, including conversations with President Trump” in his book, The Chief’s Chief, which was released to the public on Tuesday.
Mr Meadows and his attorney have claimed that conversations he may have had with former president Donald Trump on 6 January would be protected by executive privilege, but most legal experts say that his decision to include details about what he discussed with Mr Trump that day in his book amounts to a waiver of that privilege.
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 Mr Biden – not Mr Trump or 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.
Committee members previously considered moving to hold Mr Meadows in contempt one week ago, but had agreed to put such proceedings on hold after he agreed to appear for a deposition scheduled for 8 December.
Mr Thompson and Ms Cheney said the deposition their former colleague previously agreed to would indeed take place, vowing that Mr Meadows will be subject to consequences if he does not present himself to give evidence.
“Tomorrow’s deposition, which was scheduled at Mr. Meadows’s request, will go forward as planned. If indeed Mr. Meadows refuses to appear, the Select Committee will be left no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution,” they said.
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.
Speaking on MSNBC on Tuesday, select committee member Rep Zoe Lofgren of California said Mr Meadows has already provide the committee with “thousands of documents” with detail “his realtime communication as January 6th unfolded”.
“He didn’t assert some privilege about that. He sent it over to us. We’d like to ask him questions about it, and it’s ridiculous that he is now — having sent it to us — is refusing to answer questions about it,” Ms Lofgren said.
Referring to Mr Meadows detailing conversations with Mr Trump in his new book, Ms Lofgren said her former colleague’s reluctance to discuss what he already revealed to the public for money is “just not tenable”.
“I hope that he is getting good advice, because I’ll tell him right now his position is not supported by the law or the statutes. He needs to come in. If he defies the law, then I don’t think we have a lot of choice but to refer this to the ... department of justice,” she said.
Ms Lofgren — a veteran of impeachment investigations into Mr Trump, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton — added that the defiance of the law which many Trumpworld witnesses have exhibited has been “astounding”.
“It’s just – it’s not right. And it’s not in keeping with our history as a patriotic country,” she said.
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