Mark Meadows: Ex-Trump chief of staff facing contempt charges after failing to appear before Capitol riot committee

Former Trump adviser would be second ex-white house official to face criminal referral for contempt of congress

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Friday 12 November 2021 20:43 GMT
Mark Meadows is one of several top officials who recently tested positive for Covid-19
Mark Meadows is one of several top officials who recently tested positive for Covid-19 (Getty)
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Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has failed to appear for a deposition before the House select committee investigating the 6 January insurrection and is now at risk of being referred to the Justice Department on criminal contempt of congress charges.

The ex-White House aide had received a subpoena from Mississippi Rep Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol on 23 September, ordering him to deliver documents and appear to give evidence before the committee, which is investigating the role White House officials played in efforts to block Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s electoral college victory, by 7 October.

Mr Meadows, who represented North Carolina’s 11th congressional district from January 2013 until he resigned to serve as former president Donald Trump’s top aide in March 2020, had his deadline for compliance with the subpoena extended while he and his attorney, George Terwilliger, were in negotiations with the committee over the terms of his compliance.

But Mr Thompson appears to have lost patience with his former colleague. In a Thursday letter to Mr Meadows’s attorney, the chairman ordered him to appear for a 10.00 am deposition on 12 November.

“Simply put, there is no valid legal basis for Mr Meadows’s continued resistance to the Select Committee’s subpoena. As such, the Select Committee expects Mr Meadows to produce all responsive documents and appear for deposition testimony tomorrow, November 12 2021 at 10.00 a.m. If there are specific questions during that deposition that you believe raise legitimate privilege issues, Mr Meadows should state them at that time on the record for the Select Committee’s consideration and possible judicial review,” Mr Thompson wrote.

“The Select Committee will view Mr Meadows’s failure to appear at the deposition, and to produce responsive documents or a privilege log indicating the specific basis for withholding any documents you believe are protected by privilege, as willful non-compliance. Such willful non- compliance with the subpoena would force the Select Committee to consider invoking the contempt of Congress procedures…which could result in a referral from the House of Representatives to the Department of Justice for criminal charges—as well as the possibility of having a civil action to enforce the subpoena brought against Mr. Meadows in his personal capacity”.

If the House votes to hold Mr Meadows in contempt, he would be the second ex-Trump White House official to be referred to the Justice Department for such charges. Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who has also defied a subpoena on Mr Trump’s orders, was referred to the Justice Department after a House vote last month.

The former congressman claims that he cannot obey a valid subpoena from the body in which he once served because Mr Trump, who is now a private citizen, has directed him not to comply on the grounds that his testimony and the documents requested by the committee are shielded by executive privilege, a legal doctrine which protects deliberations between and among a president and his advisers.

In addition, his attorney said in a letter to Mr Thompson that Mr Meadows is “immune” from having to give evidence based on legal opinions from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel.

“Mr Meadows remains under the instructions of former President Trump to respect long-standing principles of executive privilege. It now appears the courts will have to resolve this conflict,” Mr Terwilliger wrote.

In his response, Mr Thompson noted that “every federal court” that has taken up the issue of whether presidential advisers enjoy “absolute immunity” from testimony have rejected such arguments.

Most reputable legal scholars say Mr Trump, whose term as president ended on 20 January, has no legal authority to block Mr Meadows from complying with a congressional subpoena because under Supreme Court precedent it is the incumbent president — Joe Biden — who determines whether to claim the privilege.

So far, Mr Biden has declined to do so, citing the need to fully investigate the circumstances which led to the worst attack on the Capitol since the 1814 Burning of Washington.

Mr Trump is currently pursuing litigation in federal court to block the National Archives and Records Administration from turning over White House records created before and during the 6 January insurrection. A federal district judge has already rejected his arguments, but he has filed an appeal before the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which will hear arguments in the case on 30 November.

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