The congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot advanced a measure Monday referring former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to the Justice Department for contempt of Congress over his refusal to answer questions about the attack on the Capitol.
The bipartisan panel voted 9-0 to send the measure to the full House. The House is expected to vote as soon as Tuesday on whether to ask the Justice Department to prosecute Meadows, who served as a House lawmaker before joining the Trump administration.
Committee members on Monday evening read aloud text messages they said Meadows received on and around Jan. 6 from lawmakers, without naming any members of Congress. One of those texts read: “On January 6, 2021, Vice President Mike Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.”
Another text, which the committee said Donald Trump Jr. sent to Meadows on Jan. 6 during the attack, read: “It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Meadows previously engaged with the investigative panel by turning over documents that committee vice chair Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., characterized as “interesting and important.” The Jan. 6 committee had planned on asking Meadows about the documents during a scheduled Dec. 8 deposition, but his lawyer told lawmakers the night beforehand that Meadows was refusing to participate.
“It comes down to this: 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,” Committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Monday in a statement before the vote. “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 committee over the weekend released a report recommending the House proceed with a contempt charge. The report detailed meetings and calls Meadows participated in as part of an effort to help then-President Donald Trump reverse his 2020 election defeat, including a Jan. 2 call with Trump and state and federal officials “to discuss overturning certain states’ electoral college results.” Meadows “later sent the former vice president’s staff a memo drafted by a Trump campaign lawyer urging the vice president to delay or decline the counting of votes from certain states,” the report said.
The report also referenced an email Meadows allegedly sent on Jan. 5 saying National Guard troops would keep Trump’s supporters safe the following day.
“Mr. Meadows sent an email to an individual about the events on January 6 and said that the National Guard would be present to ‘protect pro-Trump people’ and that many more would be available on standby,” the bipartisan committee report said. The recipient of the email was not identified.
Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, sent the committee a letter earlier Monday asking that it not proceed with the contempt vote, saying it would be “contrary to law” because Meadows is making “a good-faith invocation of executive privilege and testimonial immunity.”
The letter did not address why executive privilege should apply to an official from a previous administration when the sitting president is not invoking privilege — a key question in the panel’s legal fight over Trump’s records.
Meadows sued the committee last week, arguing the panel didn’t have the authority to force him to talk and that its subpoenas were “overly broad” and “unduly burdensome.”
Thompson and Cheney responded in a joint statement, saying the “flawed lawsuit won’t succeed at slowing down the Select Committee’s investigation or stopping us from getting the information we’re seeking.”
Meadows’ no-show before the committee came a day after his book recounting his time as Trump’s White House chief of staff went on sale. In it, he downplays the riot that disrupted the counting of the electoral vote and led to over 700 arrests as the work of “a handful of fanatics.”
“Why he can discuss Jan 6 in a book, but not with Congress, is inexplicable,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., one of the committee members, tweeted in response.
Thompson made a similar point in a letter to Meadows’ lawyer. “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,” the chairman wrote.
Meadows was originally scheduled to appear before the committee on Nov. 12 but did not show up. He began reengaging with the panel after it threatened to pursue a contempt charge against him, and after the Justice Department acted on the House’s referral of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon.
Bannon, a former White House adviser, has been charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for spurning the committee’s subpoenas for documents and testimony. He pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in July.
Unlike Bannon, Meadows turned over some documents to the committee, including a Nov. 6, 2020, text exchange with a member of Congress that appeared to be “about appointing alternate electors in certain states as part of a plan that the Member acknowledged would be ‘highly controversial’ and to which Mr. Meadows apparently said, ‘I love it,'” Thompson’s letter said.
In an interview on the streaming news network Real America’s Voice on Tuesday, Meadows said he changed his mind about appearing for the Dec. 8 deposition, saying the committee intended to ask about items that he considered protected by executive privilege.
“In addition, we found that in spite of our cooperation and sharing documents with them they had issued unbeknownst to us, and not without even a courtesy call, issued a subpoena to a third party carrier trying to get information,” said Meadows. “And so at this point, we, we feel like it’s best that we just continue to honor the executive privilege, and it looks like the courts are going to have to weigh in on this.”
A committee aide told NBC News the panel has sought and obtained data from telecommunications companies that “will help answer important questions. These requests to not include the content of any communication or location information but simply deal with the dates and times that communications took place.”
In a statement last week, Thompson and Cheney said the panel needed to hear from Meadows “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.”
The panel’s contempt referral recommendation is its third. The committee also voted to refer former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, but has not moved to finalize the measure since Clark has agreed to be deposed. He is scheduled to appear before the committee on Thursday.
If the House votes in favor of holding Meadows in contempt, a referral would be forwarded to the Department of Justice, which would decide whether to proceed.