For the second time in recent days, we have an intriguing new piece of evidence that Mark Meadows turned over to the Jan. 6 committee before he decided to stop cooperating. And for the second time in recent days, it’s not immediately clear what it means.
The revelation comes in the House committee’s contempt report concerning the former White House chief of staff, which it is expected to vote upon Monday. The committee is seeking to apply pressure on Meadows like it has others, including Stephen K. Bannon, who was ultimately indicted.
According to the 51-page contempt report, Meadows stated in a Jan. 5 email that the National Guard would be present Jan. 6 — the day of what became the Capitol riot — to “protect pro Trump people.” In hindsight, it’s a somewhat ironic statement — the idea that “pro Trump people” were the ones who needed protection that day. It raises questions about why Meadows would view the Guard as being necessary to protect Trump allies and what role the White House viewed for the military.
Unfortunately, the disclosure raises many more questions than it answers, and given that Meadows isn’t testifying, it will be more difficult to piece together. But Meadows’s email also rekindles past testimony from a key Jan. 6 figure, then-acting defense secretary Christopher C. Miller.
In that testimony, Miller, too, pointed to the idea that a troop presence was viewed as being needed to protect demonstrators. He said President Donald Trump requested as much in a Jan. 3 conversation the two had.
Under questioning from Rep. Byron Donalds (R-Fla.), Miller said Trump asked at the end of their meeting about whether there were any requests for a National Guard presence Jan. 6. Miller said D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser had made such a request.
Miller said Trump told him to, in Miller’s words, “fill [the request] and do whatever was necessary to protect the demonstrators that were executing their constitutionally protected rights.”
Well, this is new.— Ryan Goodman (@rgoodlaw) May 12, 2021
Trump told his acting Secretary of Defense to use military force for what purpose?
Miller: Trump said "do whatever was necessary to protect the demonstrators that were executing their constitutionally protected rights."
Occurs in their Jan. 3 meeting. pic.twitter.com/jnEDYVUzsK
The most logical explanation is that Trump and those around him viewed there being some kind of threat to his supporters as they demonstrated, perhaps from a group like antifa, which Trump later falsely blamed for being behind the riot (there remains no evidence for this). The Washington Post has reported that Trump was indeed concerned about the safety of his supporters in the run-up to Jan. 6.
But in Miller’s own testimony, he also alluded somewhat confusingly to the idea that deploying the Guard could be perceived as involving the military in an effort to overturn the election.
In his prepared remarks, Miller stated: “My concerns were heightened by commentary in the media about the possibility of a military coup or that advisers to the president were advocating the declaration of martial law.”
When Miller actually delivered the testimony, though, he changed its thrust somewhat. In that case, he added the word “irresponsible” before the word “commentary,” suggesting he viewed such fears as somewhat of a media construct rather than a legitimate fear.
“I want to remind you and the American public that during that time there was irresponsible commentary by the media about a possible military coup or that advisers to the president were advocating the declaration of martial law,” he said.
Just a few days later, though, new details revealed that Miller might have taken the possibility of a coup more seriously than he let on. Axios reported that “Miller told associates he had three goals for the final weeks of the Trump administration. #1: No major war. #2: No military coup. #3: No troops fighting citizens on the streets.” There has also been plenty of other evidence that the coup fears weren’t conjured from thin air and were taken seriously at the time by those intimately involved in the final days of Trump’s presidency.
It wasn’t the only part of Miller’s comments on the Capitol riot that shifted in a more sympathetic direction toward his former boss. Miller had previously said in comments to Vice News that it was “pretty much definitive” that the riot wouldn’t have happened if not for Trump’s Jan. 6 speech that preceded it — suggesting that Trump had indeed incited the riot. But in his later testimony, he suggested that he was referring only to Trump supporters marching toward the Capitol — and not necessarily breaking into it — even though his initial comment had included both. Miller acknowledged that he had “reassessed” his view of the situation.
Also important here is what Miller did the day after his conversation with Trump. On Jan. 4, he sent a memo to the secretary of the army authorizing National Guard support but limiting its mandate and use of weapons without further authorization from Miller personally.
Miller’s testimony specifically on Trump desiring a National Guard presence makes Meadows’s disclosure more intriguing. Politico reports that the matter raised in Meadows’s email is of “high interest” to the committee, particularly when it comes to what became a delayed Guard response to the Capitol riot. Unfortunately, the committee has yet to provide any additional real detail of the email.
As with that PowerPoint presentation disclosed in recent days, it’s important to be circumspect about precisely what Meadows’s “protect pro Trump people” email means. There’s just a whole lot we don’t know yet.
But it also reinforces how much there is to uncover, and uncovering it has become more difficult thanks to the likes of Meadows blocking the committee’s requests.