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Role as Trump’s gatekeeper puts Meadows in legal jeopardy — and at odds with Trump

White House chief of staff Mark Meadows gives a thumbs up as President Donald Trump speaks in support of Republican incumbent senators Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue during a rally on Jan. 4, 2021, in Dalton, Ga. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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From his time as chief of staff for Donald Trump, Mark Meadows has provided a gold mine of information to the House committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection: urgent texts from the president’s son, pleas from GOP lawmakers and exhortations from Fox News hosts calling on him to get Trump to stop the attack.

But now his proximity as Trump’s former gatekeeper and top aide has thrust Meadows into legal jeopardy — even as the revelations in the texts and his new book also threaten his standing with Trump.

Meadows in recent weeks has veered between steps aimed at bolstering his former boss and actions that, intentionally or not, have undermined him. His new book treats the former president as a hero but also angered Trump by revealing that he was much sicker from covid-19 than previously known and that his first positive coronavirus test was kept hidden. And Meadows has now stopped cooperating with the Jan. 6 committee after first supplying thousands of pages of damning material, leading to a House vote this week holding him in contempt of Congress.

The panel’s months-long investigation has revealed the myriad ways in which Meadows is inextricably bound to the Jan. 6 attack, serving less as chief of staff than chief enabler to a president who was desperate to hold onto power.

He joined a Jan. 2 call now under investigation in which Trump pressed Georgia’s secretary of state to “find” enough votes to defeat Joe Biden. He repeatedly passed on conspiracy theories and falsehoods to top administration officials encouraging them to overturn the election. And he participated in discussions about the Jan. 6 rally that turned violent, saying the National Guard would be present to protect “pro-Trump people.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) on Dec. 14 revealed a text from a lawmaker on Nov. 4, 2020, suggesting states ignore their vote totals and appoint their own electors. (Video: U.S. House of Representatives)

New details emerge on Meadows’s role in trying to overturn election

Though the traditional function of a White House chief of staff is as a gatekeeper, Meadows instead threw the gates to the Oval Office wide open — acting as a facilitator to conspiracy theorists and often declining to tamp down Trump’s obsession with false election claims.

“He didn’t just hold Trump’s coat while he led an insurrection or play feckless consigliere on a call with the Georgia secretary of state — he was deeply involved in efforts to overturn democracy,” said Chris Whipple, the author of “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency.”

Referring to Meadows’s newly released book, “The Chief’s Chief,” about his time serving in the Trump White House, Whipple said, “It really ought to be ‘The Anti Chief’ or ‘The Un-Chief,’ because the chief of staff is, above all else, supposed to tell the president hard truths, and Meadows has just raised sycophancy to an art form.”

But former White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said that, as with past Trump chiefs of staff, there was probably a limit in how much he could control access to the president.

“You had all these people around him at that point that if Meadows was going to be the one to disagree, it was going to be four-to-one, and he had watched everyone who disagreed with Trump too much just get thrown out,” Grisham said. “That was the culture we always dealt with, and at that point, I think rather than doing the right thing, he was doing anything he could to survive.”

A representative of Meadows declined to comment, and a representative for Trump did not respond to a request for comment.

Interviews with former Trump aides and allies — many of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to share candid details — depict Meadows as unwilling or unable to moderate the president’s worst impulses, and as a willing hub for conspiracy theories and false claims about the election.

One person who interacted directly with Meadows said he regularly served as a conduit for information from conspiracy theorists and others who believed the election was stolen, often sharing the information with Trump and others in the government.

Meadows also believed there might be credence to the theories that foreign governments had interfered in the counting of ballots, and asked intelligence officials and others to look into the claims, former officials said. Last December, Meadows emailed then-acting attorney general Jeffrey Rosen a long letter filled with outlandish claims — which became known as “Italygate” — about how an Italian defense contractor had somehow conspired with senior CIA officials to rig the election by switching votes from Trump to Biden.

Michael Pillsbury — a Trump adviser who helped research some of the fraud claims but ultimately found them without merit — said Meadows was eager to enter the Oval Office to present Trump with a new theory or new information about election fraud, knowing Trump was hungry for any tidbits that would help him claim victory.

“He was trying to please the president,” said Pillsbury, describing Meadows’s role. “He was living and breathing to serve Trump.”

With a skeletal West Wing staff after the election and a growing number of advisers wary of involving themselves with the effort to claim the election was stolen, “Go talk to Meadows” became a frequent refrain given to those spouting dubious theories, a former Trump campaign official said.

The juicy Mark Meadows texts Liz Cheney just disclosed

In his book, Meadows writes that Trump had received a positive coronavirus test seven days before he was ultimately hospitalized with the virus, a period during which the president came in contact with more than 500 people, according to a Washington Post analysis.

Trump is also particularly upset about a passage in which Meadows describes him sitting in bed sick with covid-19 in the White House residence, writing that Trump had “red streaks” in his eyes and that “his hair was a mess.”

“This guy is talking about what I look like, in my bedroom,” Trump griped recently to one confidante.

Shortly after Trump publicly criticized the book, calling the covid claim “fake news,” Meadows — who allies described as distraught by his former boss’s negative reaction — reneged on an agreement to sit down for an interview with the committee, a decision that ultimately led to Tuesday’s contempt vote.

A 51-page report released by the committee Sunday night, as well as other disclosures, paint a more complete picture of just how integral Meadows was in the days leading up to insurrection, as well as on Jan. 6 itself.

According to the report, Meadows received text messages and emails about a strategy to encourage Republican legislators in certain states to send alternate slates of electors to Congress, which some Trump allies believed would allow vice president Mike Pence to overturn the election results. When a member of Congress described the plan to Meadows as “highly controversial,” Meadows responded, “I love it.”

Meadows also oversaw a West Wing staff that, in the post-election period, regularly perpetuated false claims of fraud.

On Jan. 6, Meadows served as a key point of contact for panicked lawmakers, allies, journalists and even Trump family members, who sent desperate texts pleading with him to convince Trump to call off the angry mob at the Capitol.

“I’m pushing hard. I agree,” Meadows responded to Trump’s oldest son, Donald Trump Jr., after he said his father needed to condemn the violence.

On Dec. 13, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) detailed a series of text messages Mark Meadows received on Jan. 6 from Donald Trump Jr. and Fox News host Laura Ingraham. (Video: AP)

Rep. Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.), chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, said Wednesday that the committee was startled by the information Meadows was trafficking.

“We were surprised at what we found,” Thompson said, referring to more than 2,000 text messages and 6,000 pages of documents turned over by Meadows. “Not unexpectedly, but the fact that it was crystal clear who was engaging in it. It was crystal clear at what level that engagement took and the fact that it gave us more reason to want to talk to him to get more clarity on those subjects.”

The GOP plotted to overturn the 2020 election before it was even over

Thompson added, however, that it still remains unclear whether Meadows provided these fringe theories and documents directly to the president.

“That’s something we want to look at,” Thompson added.

People who worked with Meadows accused him of engaging in rhetorical gymnastics, often tailoring his message — and even his facts — to please his audience.

One former administration official said Meadows would sometimes call and ask them to pass on messages from the president — with Meadows adding that the official didn’t need to actually pass on the message, but that Meadows just wanted to be able to tell Trump he’d done his part. Their team, this person added, received voice mails from election conspiracy theorists who would begin their message by saying Meadows had shared the number and suggested they call.

Meadows also disseminated information about alleged election fraud in Pennsylvania to some Justice Department officials that they later determined to be unsubstantiated, a person with direct knowledge of the matter said.

At other times, Meadows shared information about fraud claims with senators, asking them to study the material.

Meadows was also key to recruiting Cleta Mitchell, a prominent conservative lawyer who argued on Trump’s behalf and was present on the call with the Georgia secretary of state, a senior campaign official said.

This campaign official added that Meadows kept in close touch with some of the president’s outside lawyers who were pushing disputed theories, including the group who gathered at the Willard Hotel a block from the White House in advance of Jan. 6 to strategize on how to overturn the election.

Meadows didn’t just confine his efforts to Trump’s team. He also disseminated a memo from Jenna Ellis, a Trump campaign lawyer, to Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, arguing the vice president could set aside certain electors, according to a person familiar with the matter. And he brought in other outside lawyers to press his dubious case with Pence’s orbit that the vice president had the authority to overturn the election results.

Whipple argued that Meadows has earned himself an inglorious spot in the history books.

“It used to be that there were a lot of contenders for worst chief of staff in history,” Whipple said. “That’s no longer the case. Meadows owns it by a country mile.”

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