Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did not appear for a deposition in front of the House select committee investigating January 6 on Friday, according to sources familiar with the investigation, setting up a potential showdown that could lead to the panel initiating a criminal referral process against him.
Committee workers had been prepared to conduct the interview and had waited in a room on Capitol Hill with a stenographer, but they began to file out nine minutes after the time had passed.
Meadows’ actions, said Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, in a statement on Friday, require the panel to explore criminal contempt of Congress, but they stopped short of stating that is the road they would take.
“Mr. Meadows’s actions today — choosing to defy the law — will force the Select Committee to consider pursuing contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena. If his defiance persists and that process moves ahead, the record will reveal the wide range of matters the Select Committee wished to discuss with Mr. Meadows until his decision to hide behind the former President’s spurious claims of privilege,” the pair said in a statement.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Meadows has chosen to join a very small group of witnesses who believe they are above the law and are defying a Select Committee subpoena outright.”
Meadows’ attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, issued a statement ahead of the scheduled deposition Friday morning, saying his client would not cooperate with the committee until courts ruled on former President Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege, citing “a sharp legal dispute with the committee.”
“The issues concern whether Mr. Meadows can be compelled to testify and whether, even if he could, that he could be forced to answer questions that involve privileged communications,” Terwilliger said. “Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts. It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues.”
Terwilliger added, “No matter how important the subject matter of the committee’s work, decades of litigation over Executive Privilege shows how critically important it is for a president to have access to advice and counsel without fear that political opponents in Congress will later be able to pull away the shield of confidentiality that protects candor in those communications.”
Meadows’ claim of executive privilege was rejected by Thompson and Cheney in their statement.
“It’s important to note that there’s nothing extraordinary about the Select Committee seeking the cooperation of a former senior administration official,” they said. “Throughout U.S. history, the White House has provided Congress with testimony and information when it has been in the public interest. There couldn’t be a more compelling public interest than getting answers about an attack on our democracy.”
The panel wants Meadows to respond if he used a private mobile phone to communicate on January 6 and where his text messages from that day are.
The committee took a formal step toward perhaps sending Meadows to the Department of Justice for contempt of Congress by publicly establishing a deadline that Meadows did not follow.
Thompson planned the Friday deposition late Thursday evening in an attempt to coerce Meadows into complying.
“The Select Committee will view Mr. Meadows’s failure to appear at the deposition, and to produce responsive documents or a privilege log indicating the specific basis for withholding any documents you believe are protected by privilege, as willful non-compliance,” Thompson wrote on Thursday ahead of the scheduled deposition.
Thompson continued, “Such willful noncompliance with the subpoena would force the Select Committee to consider invoking the contempt of Congress procedures … which could result in a referral from the House of Representatives to the Department of Justice for criminal charges — as well as the possibility of having a civil action to enforce the subpoena brought against Mr. Meadows in his personal capacity.”
Earlier Thursday, Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su wrote to Meadows’ counsel, alerting him of Biden’s decision and noting “the unique and extraordinary circumstances where Congress is investigating an effort to obstruct the lawful transfer of power under our Constitution.”
Su told Terwilliger that Biden has already determined that executive privilege does not apply to specific subjects within the committee’s jurisdiction, such as “events within the White House on or about January 6, 2021; attempts to use the Department of Justice to advance a false narrative that the 2020 election was tainted by widespread fraud; and other efforts to alter election results or obstruct the transfer of power.”
Meadows was subpoenaed in September, and the committee has said that he has been “engaging” in talks over the conditions of handing over papers and appearing for a deposition since then.
However, weeks after the committee gave Meadows a “short” but indefinite extension of the original subpoena date, members are becoming more agitated and are debating whether and how to increase the pressure.
The committee is preparing to follow in the footsteps of Trump backer Steve Bannon.
The Justice Department said on Friday that a federal grand jury has indicted Bannon for contempt of Congress after he refused to comply with the committee’s subpoena.
“While we’re determined to get all the information we’re seeking, Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail in stopping the Select Committee’s effort getting answers for the American people about January 6th, making legislative recommendations to help protect our democracy, and helping ensure nothing like that day ever happens again,” Thompson and Cheney said.
When asked whether the Bannon development has influenced the committee’s decision on how to proceed with Meadows, Rep. Jamie Raskin, who serves on the panel, said members look at each issue individually, but that any person subpoenaed is held to the same standard of the rule of law.
“I’m certain there will be little patience for anyone who is just blowing off congressional subpoenas,” the Maryland Democrat stated, acknowledging that members are not in town this week and will have to wait until next week to officially meet. “We have been moving promptly to respond to defiance to any House subpoenas.”
Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans on the House panel, told CNN that he hopes Bannon’s charge “sends a chilling message” to anybody thinking about not working with the committee.
“This is certainly a good thing, and I hope it sends a chilling message to anybody else that was going to follow through like this,” he said.
Meadows’ lack of cooperation, as well as Bannon’s federal indictment, come after the committee said that it had questioned 150 people who are “engaged and participating” with its probe. To far, the committee has issued 35 subpoenas, including to former White House officials, Trump campaign officials, and organizers of rallies and activities before the January 6 assault.
On Tuesday, the committee also subpoenaed two former White House officials who worked closely with Meadows to learn more about his efforts to communicate with others relevant to the investigation, including Georgia election officials, organizers of January 6 events, and high-level Justice Department officials.