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Meadows faces contempt threat from committee investigating Jan. 6 attack

Congress has already held Steve Bannon in contempt for ignoring a Jan. 6 subpoena. Mark Meadows has been warned: He might be next.
Image: House Democrats To Vote On Post Office Bill In Break From Summer Recess
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the press on Capitol Hill on Aug. 22, 2020.Gabriella Demczuk / Getty Images

When Donald Trump tried to hold onto power despite losing the 2020 election, he relied heavily on then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, who played an especially pernicious role.

It was Meadows, for example, who made a surprise visit to Georgia shortly before Christmas, checking in on an election audit after his boss leaned on local officials to help him. Around the same time, Trump's right-hand aide repeatedly pushed federal law enforcement to investigate unfounded conspiracy theories — some of which were quite weird.

With this in mind, it wasn't too surprising when the bipartisan House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack issued its first batch of subpoenas in September, and Meadows was one of the four recipients.

Two months later, the former White House chief of staff hasn't taken steps to cooperate — and as Politico reported overnight, the select committee is getting impatient.

Congressional investigators say they're prepared to seek criminal contempt charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows if he refuses to appear for a deposition on Friday. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said in a letter to Meadows' lawyer, George Terwilliger III, that Meadows' continued resistance to cooperating with the panel lacked any plausible defense.

In his correspondence, the panel's Democratic chair wrote, "Simply put, there is no valid legal basis for Mr. Meadows's continued resistance to the Select Committee's subpoena."

In terms of expectations, the committee has established some highly specific parameters for Meadows: The Republican is supposed to produce all relevant documents and testify today. In fact, right about now.

"If there are specific questions during that deposition that you believe raise legitimate privilege issues, Mr. Meadows should state them at that time on the record for the Select Committee's consideration and possible judicial review," Thompson's letter added.

The correspondence concluded, "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. Such willful non-compliance 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."

In other words, if Meadows blows off the congressional subpoena, the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack is prepared to go after him the way it went after Steve Bannon — whom the House voted to hold in criminal contempt a few weeks ago.

And in the unlikely event that Meadows is looking to the current White House for support, White House Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su also sent a letter to the Republican's lawyer yesterday, explaining that President Joe Biden will not assert executive privilege or immunity over the materials the committee expects Meadows to produce.

For his part, the former White House chief of staff has claimed he can't honor the subpoena because the former president has claimed executive privilege. A federal judge this week ruled that Trump can't claim executive privilege since he's no longer the nation's chief executive, but the matter is currently pending at the appellate level. I'll have more on that a little later this morning.

Update: Shortly after this post was published, Meadows failed to appear for his scheduled deposition. Expect the committee to explore next steps next week.