Nov. 12 brought potentially fortuitous developments for the House Jan. 6 committee and its arduous campaign to get testimony from key allies of former president Donald Trump.

In the morning, former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows signaled that he would defy the committee’s subpoena and failed to show up for a deposition. A few hours later, the Justice Department announced a grand jury had indicted former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon, whom the House held in contempt for doing much the same thing.

As we noted at the time, it set Meadows up for a crucial decision about how firmly to hold his line — and risk being held in contempt himself, which the committee quickly threatened. That decision also could send a signal to other potential witnesses, as we wrote:

Critics decried the delay from Attorney General Merrick Garland and Co. for weeks after the House’s contempt vote on Bannon on Oct. 21. But in some ways, the timing of the indictment perhaps couldn’t have been better for the Jan. 6 committee. The fact that it landed on Friday afternoon meant it came after Meadows indicated he was going down the same path as Bannon.
If Meadows were to reverse himself now, it would surely send a signal to others.

On Tuesday, we got an early indication that there has indeed been some movement with Meadows. Exactly what it means remains very much to be seen.

The chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), announced that Meadows “has produced records to the committee and will soon appear for an initial deposition.”

Thompson added, “The Select Committee expects all witnesses, including Mr. Meadows, to provide all information requested and that the Select Committee is lawfully entitled to receive. The committee will continue to assess his degree of compliance with our subpoena after the deposition.”

The House select committee investigating the attempted insurrection at the Capitol on Jan. 6 faces an uphill battle with former Trump administration officials. (Blair Guild/The Washington Post)

That, it bears emphasizing, is far from saying Meadows has folded and will suddenly spill the beans. Even Thompson allows that Meadows’s cooperation is still in doubt. Meadows is still going to claim certain things pertaining to Trump fall under executive privilege — a claim to which he has a stronger argument than did Bannon, who wasn’t a White House employee on Jan. 6.

In a statement, Meadows attorney George Terwilliger said that indeed Meadows’s team still regards some topics as off-limits. Terwilliger said that they were still seeking a fuller agreement that “does not require Mr. Meadows to waive executive privilege or to forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress.”

In other words, this won’t be the last we’ve heard of these negotiations. And indeed, Bannon’s indictment in some ways laid out a road map for would-be witnesses to avoid their own indictments for failing to cooperate — a road map Meadows might now be following.

But the fact that Meadows is producing records and is to appear for an initial deposition is notable. That’s further than others have gone. Bannon effectively ignored his subpoena altogether. Also holding a hard line has been Jeffrey Clark, the former Justice Department official who pushed Trump’s line on questioning the election results internally at Justice and whom the committee is expected to hold in contempt Wednesday.

There is also some cautious optimism within the committee that Meadows has been persuaded at least to soften his line, with the prospect of his being held in contempt and even indicted hanging over the process. The committee, too, has signaled a somewhat softer initial line, allowing that there is plenty it wants to know that doesn’t have to do with Trump personally — and thus wouldn’t be subject to any claims of executive privilege. The two sides appear to be moving forward on that, at least, and dealing with such claims as they arise. But there is no indication there is any real agreement on what could be privileged — or whether the committee would even allow for any such claims.

All of which means it’s not clear how strong a signal this might send to other would-be witnesses. Certainly, the fact that Trump’s top aide is at least engaging with the committee could lead others to grudgingly open up lines of communication and cooperation — and deal with the potential pitfalls later.

From that standpoint, the committee certainly has an interest in making it seem that Meadows has come off his line, regardless of how little he might have moved. Likewise, Meadows’s team won’t want to send any signal that he has given in to the pressure. The proof will be in how talks with Meadows go from here, and whether others such as Clark might be compelled to cooperate, as well.

It’s worth being skeptical that the game has changed much yet. But the Bannon indictment certainly gave the committee something to work with.