The House voted Tuesday to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena issued by the bipartisan committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
The matter now goes to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to pursue the contempt referral. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor criminal offense that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Members of the Jan. 6 panel have long said the information they seek from Meadows, a onetime North Carolina congressman, is not protected under any kind of executive privilege as the bipartisan panel investigates the insurrection, what former president Donald Trump did that fateful day and the actions leading up to the riot.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, President Biden suggested Congress had done the right thing by voting to hold Meadows in contempt.
“Just what I’ve seen, I have not spoken to anyone, it seems to me he is worthy of being held in contempt,” Biden said.
Sweeping claims of executive privilege by Meadows and Trump to shield their activities on and before Jan. 6 from congressional scrutiny have been challenged in the court and by constitutional experts.
Last week, Meadows backed away from cooperating with the panel just days after saying he would. He argued that the panel was pressuring him to discuss issues that the former president said are protected by executive privilege. However, Meadows had already produced thousands of documents for the panel, including text messages and emails related to the events of the day.
“If you’re making excuses to avoid cooperating with our investigation, you’re making excuses to hide the truth from the American people about what happened on January 6th,” said Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), the select committee chairman, during House debate. “You’re making excuses as part of a coverup.”
Cheney, vice chair of the Jan. 6 panel, lamented having to urge members to vote yes on a criminal contempt for Meadows, their former colleague. She noted that Tuesday’s vote related principally to Meadows’s refusal to testify about messages and other communications that he turned in as evidence.
“January 6th was without precedent,” Cheney said. “There has been no stronger case in our nation’s history for a congressional investigation into the actions of a former president. This body must investigate the facts in detail, and we are entitled to ask Mr. Meadows about the non-privileged materials he has produced to us.”
Cheney and Kinzinger, who voted for the resolution, are the two Republicans on the select committee.
The pro-Trump rioters were intent on stopping the affirmation of Joe Biden’s electoral college win and the counting of the votes. The attack resulted in five deaths and injuries to about 140 members of law enforcement.
Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), a member of the Jan. 6 panel, told her colleagues that Meadows’s cooperation is needed so that Americans can understand what happened.
“It’s increasingly clear that for 187 minutes, the commander in chief was derelict of his duty,” Luria said. “We know this because Mr. Meadows provided the evidence to the committee without any assertions of privilege. And while the record handed over is helpful, there are many questions that we need to ask.”
Republicans accused Democrats of partisanship and said the Jan. 6 panel is an attempt at “burying their political opponents.” Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) decried its pursuit of individuals connected to a “First Amendment-protected political rally” before the assault on the Capitol.
“All we know for sure about this partisan investigation is that it’s massive, it’s happening without accountability, and it’s happening in secret,” Banks said. “The select committee should serve as a warning to all Americans.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) opposed the creation of an independent, bipartisan commission to investigate the attack.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also accused Democrats of treating Meadows as a criminal.
“Mark Meadows is our former colleague,” Jordan said on the House floor. “He is a good man, and he is my friend. And this, this is as wrong as it gets.”
Cheney, in response to Jordan and Banks, accused her Republican colleagues of changing their position on the events of Jan. 6.
“I would say that we all on this side of the aisle used to be in agreement about what had happened on January 6th,” Cheney said. “There was a brief period of time, days perhaps when we were in agreement. . . . Unfortunately, Mr. McCarthy’s position changed on this issue.”
Ahead of the full House vote, Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) urged fellow House Republicans to vote “no” on the resolution, saying Meadows has “made good-faith efforts to cooperate” with the committee.
Not so, said Democrats, who argued that Meadows changed his mind about collaborating with the Jan. 6 panel after his book, “The Chief’s Chief,” came out. In his book, Meadows shared previously unknown details about Trump, prompting the former president to pan the book.
“After ex-President Trump exploded and called the book ‘fake news,’ Meadows performed a U-turn and suddenly refused to appear at the December 8th deposition that he had previously agreed to,” said Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.). “He called his own book ‘fake news,’ which is a pretty devastating review to render on your own book.”
Democrats displayed various texts to Meadows, part of a larger collection of evidence turned in by the former chief of staff that the Jan. 6 panel presented late Monday. Among the thousands of documents were texts from allies of Trump and his son Donald Trump Jr. urging Meadows to get the president to stop the rioters as the insurrection unfolded.
Cheney had stunned the committee proceedings Monday night by reading several of the texts. She read several more on Tuesday before the House Rules Committee. These, she said, were from Republican members of Congress to Meadows.
“It is really bad up here,” one said. Another one texted, “The president needs to stop this ASAP.”
“Fix this now,” another lawmaker urged Meadows.
“As we saw last night, dozens of texts — including from Trump administration officials, from members of the press, from Donald Trump Jr. — urged immediate action by the president,” Cheney said. “But we know hours passed with no action by the president to defend the Congress of the United States from an assault while we were trying to count electoral votes.”
In a statement Tuesday, Meadows’s attorney, George Terwilliger III, said Meadows “never stopped cooperating” with the committee.
“Rather, he has maintained consistently that as a former Chief of Staff he cannot be compelled to appear for questioning and that he as a witness is not licensed to waive Executive Privilege claimed by the former president,” Terwilliger said.
On Tuesday, McConnell said, “We are all watching what’s unfolding on the House side.”
“It will be interesting to reveal all of the participants that were involved,” he said.
Asked about Meadows, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said at a news conference Tuesday that any final decision rests with the Justice Department.