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Mark Meadows' Jan. 6 texts remind us how much we don't know

Fox News hosts can pretend Jan. 6 was no big deal — but we've got receipts now.

As White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows was the gatekeeper to then-President Donald Trump. That is why, as the U.S. Capitol was under attack Jan. 6, it’s his cellphone that filled up with missives from the likes of Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity imploring Trump to do something.

By the time the attack ended, and Congress had gone back to counting the electoral votes that confirmed Joe Biden’s win in the 2020 presidential election, many of those who had pleaded with Meadows to have Trump call off the insurrectionists had already begun to pretend that their cries for help never happened. Others pivoted to saying the attack wasn’t that big a deal — or even that antifa had really done the attacking. But the messages to Meadows exist; their fear was real. The senders believed that Trump could call off his supporters and end the violence. And no amount of pretending otherwise is going to change that.

Meadows has been going back and forth with the Jan. 6 committee over his level of cooperation — and Congress has grown tired of the game. The committee issued a report recommending he be charged with criminal contempt for refusing to answer the panel's questions about the lead-up to the attack. Monday night’s dramatic reading of Meadows’ text messages into the record ahead of a vote on the contempt referral showcased just how serious Trump’s friends and allies, both inside the Capitol and out, considered the matter at the time.

We now have “tangible proof that some of Fox’s marquee personalities knowingly lied to their audience about January,” Vox’s Zack Beauchamp wrote. “The lying began basically immediately, in the direct aftermath of a national tragedy.” That lying has only continued over the last 11 months, as those hosts have attacked the committee’s investigation and their colleagues have gone so far as to blame the FBI for the assault.

Meadows has been going back and forth with the Jan. 6 committee over his level of cooperation — and Congress has grown tired of the game.

None of the Fox News hosts who messaged Meadows the afternoon of Jan. 6 — including Ingraham, Hannity and Brian Kilmeade — has acknowledged doing so since Monday night’s revelation. When Meadows appeared on Hannity’s show Monday night, Hannity insisted that rather than looking into the violence of Jan. 6, Congress’ investigations should focus on the anti-police brutality protests that swept the country last year. Meadows also appeared Tuesday on Hannity’s radio show, where the host floated the idea that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was more at fault for Jan. 6 than Trump.

In a recent profile in The Atlantic, Rep. Peter Meijer, R-Mich., one of the few Republicans to have voted in favor of impeaching Trump after the insurrection, told the magazine’s Tim Alberta that after the Capitol had been secured, he asked a new colleague if he was OK. “The member responded that he was not,” Alberta wrote, “that no matter his belief in the legitimacy of the election, he could no longer vote to certify the results, because he feared for his family’s safety.”

So yes, some Republicans were terrorized into backing Trump’s claims of election fraud. But the texts to Meadows remind us of something just as important: Despite that some felt pressured into going along with the vote against certification, there were members who wholeheartedly backed the president’s attempt to overturn the election. “Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all,” one lawmaker’s text to Meadows read, backing the same widely discredited legal theory that members of Trump’s inner circle were feeding the president.

“Yesterday was a terrible day,” another text from a lawmaker read. “We tried everything we could in our objection to the 6 states. I’m sorry nothing worked.” The committee hasn’t named the lawmakers in question yet but will decide when to do so in the next week or so, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Tuesday. (He also said so far they’re only aware of members of the House who were texting Meadows, not senators.)

Meijer described to The Atlantic how even his colleagues who had backed Trump’s lies about the election were petrified during the assault. The likes of Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., who reportedly called Trump personally to ask for his intervention but were left to their own devices, would fall into that category. Here’s what I wrote in September about the fear they likely felt during and after the insurrection:

I’d say many of them are still scared. They’re scared that betraying their once and future king will draw the eyes of the mob back on them. They’re scared of what will happen to their jobs and power if that happens. And that fear has blinded them to the actual danger their inaction and silence are enabling.

I’ve also written that we don’t need a “smoking gun” to prove Trump’s intentions in the aftermath of his loss to Biden. We saw the insurrection streaming live Jan. 6, witnessed men and women laying siege to Congress in response to his lies and watched in horror as it seemed America’s democratic experiment was coming to an end. What more could be produced that would be more compelling than those images?

Well, these texts to Meadows show that there remain new details with the capacity to shock. They remind us that there are still things to be uncovered about what was happening in the Oval Office those hours that people in Trump’s orbit were begging him to intervene. And there are still members of Congress who, when before the dust had even settled, wanted to apologize for not keeping Trump in power. That is apologizing for failing at what the rioters had also failed to achieve.