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House holds Meadows in contempt of Congress, refers to DOJ for potential criminal charges

In a near party-line vote, lawmakers in the House found Trump's former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for his refusal to testify before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House voted Tuesday night to hold former president Donald Trump's ex-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt after an agreement for the former White House official to work with the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack fell through last week.

The House voted 222–218 on Tuesday to find Meadows in contempt for refusing to testify before the investigative committee, a vote that largely split down party lines and revealed the severe partisan tensions surrounding the committee's investigation and its attempts to get detailed testimony from those who were closest to the former president as his supporters laid siege to the Capitol building.

“We are here with great sadness. We are here recognizing and understanding the seriousness of the situation,” Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 committee, said on the floor of the House ahead of the vote.

Cheney and Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois were the only Republicans to vote in favor of holding Meadows in contempt.

Whether Meadows will face criminal charges for his defiance is now up to the U.S. attorney's office in D.C., and while former Trump ally Steve Bannon has been charged for his refusal to comply with the investigation, Meadows' own fate remains in question.

Meadows did initially reach an agreement with the committee last month, turning over thousands of documents and personal texts and emails to the panel.

But his assertions that his previous position as a White House official gave him executive privilege and exempted him from having to testify before the committee led to the dissolution of the deal as House lawmakers asserted Meadows needed to answer questions before the panel about his communications with former President Donald Trump and the documents he turned over to the committee.

During a Monday night committee meeting, some of the documents, including personal texts, Meadows disclosed to the committee came to light for the first time, providing startling insight into the conversations surrounding the former president's advisors as his supporters stormed the Capitol in an attempt to overturn the election.

Cheney read out messages sent to Meadows on Jan. 6, including a text thread between the former chief of staff and Donald Trump Jr. in which the former president's eldest son urged Meadows to call for Trump to step in and hold an Oval Office address as rioters invaded the Capitol building.

"He's got to condemn this shit ASAP," Trump Jr. wrote.

"I'm pushing it hard, I agree," Meadows wrote back, according to Cheney.

Multiple Fox News hosts, who have since downplayed the intensity and terror of the attack, also sent messages to Meadows urging for the president to intervene and call for an end to the attack.

"Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home. This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy," Fox TV personality Laura Ingraham wrote to Meadows, according to Cheney.

"Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol," Sean Hannity texted Meadows.

Members of the investigative committee said the messages require Meadows' testimony, raising questions about the former president's conversations with his advisors and why the president did not publicly condemn the attack by his supporters.

“All of these texts and hundreds more like them lead to hundreds of questions that we have about the sequence of events on Jan. 6. Who did what in response to different pleas from lawmakers, Democrat and Republican alike? Who did what in response to these pleas coming in from members of the media and from members of the Trump family? What was the sequence of events?" Representative Jamie Raskin, a Democrat from Maryland and member of the Jan. 6 panel, said.

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Cheney said Meadows' testimony on documents he turned over and did not claim privilege over is critical.

“Mr. Meadows’ testimony will bear on another fundamental question before this committee, and that is whether Donald J. Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly sought to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceeding to count electoral votes," Cheney said.

This question laid out by Cheney is a legal one that references the threshold needed for a crime of obstruction of Congress to be charged, hinting at the committee's interest in whether Trump committed a crime related to the Jan. 6 attack.

The messages unveiled this week also revealed Meadows was in communication with lawmakers who have not been identified leading up to and on Jan. 6, throughout the attack.

"Here's an aggressive strategy: Why can't the states of GA, NC, Penn and other [Republican] controlled state houses declare this is BS (where conflicts and election not called that night) and just send their own electors to vote and have this go to SCOTUS," one text from an unnamed lawmaker to Meadows on Nov. 4, the day after the 2020 presidential election.

Another lawmaker messaged Meadows on Jan. 5 asking Meadows to check his Signal app, an encrypted messaging platform often used for more secure communications. Committee members said they do not have access to Meadow's unencrypted Signal messages.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he was not in contact with Meadows on Jan. 6 and is interested to know which lawmakers were.

“I do think we’re all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side," McConnell said in a news conference. "And it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.”

Meadows' attorney George Terwilliger said in a statement that his client never stopped cooperating with the committee and that Meadows has asserted from the start that he cannot be questioned due to executive privilege.

"At the same time, he has fully cooperated as to documents in his possession that are not privileged and has sought various means to provide other information while continuing to honor the former president’s privilege claims," Terwilliger wrote.

"Perhaps members will consider how the Select Committee’s true intentions in dealing with Mr. Meadows have been revealed when it accuses him of contempt citing the very documents his cooperation has produced. What message does that duplicity send to him as well as to others who might be inclined to consider cooperating in good faith to the extent possible?”  Terwilliger said in the statement.

While Meadows has asserted that he is protected from testifying due to executive privilege, even suing the committee over its subpoenas which he condemned as "overly broad and unduly burdensome," lawmakers have rejected the idea that privilege would cover all, if any, of the questions the committee needs answered.

President Joe Biden has waived any claims of privilege that would exempt Meadows from complying with the investigation and the recent release of Meadows' book, "The Chief's Chief," which details his time in the White House and some of the events of Jan. 6, has raised questions about his claims that information about his time in the executive is privileged from public disclosure.

Many of the committee's questions they want Meadows to testify on also pertain to documents he turned over willingly and asserted no executive privilege over.

Meadows is one of three former Trump allies, including former Trump confidante Steve Bannon and former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark, who have defied the committee's calls for information and asserted executive privilege claims.

Bannon now faces criminal charges for refusing to testify before the committee about his knowledge of the insurrection and the committee has recommended the House move forward with a contempt vote on Clark, who defied a subpoena has since said he will assert his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

The moves to hold those who defy the committee in contempt have raised criticism from Republicans, exemplified in the party-line vote to find Meadows in contempt.

"Congress’ job is to make laws, not enforce them," Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, a Republican from Georgia, said on the House floor Tuesday. "But somehow the communists here in charge have forgotten, no not forgotten, are purposely abusing the Constitution and what this body of Congress is supposed to do."

But Raskin pushed back against criticisms from Republicans, arguing that digging into the details of the insurrection and the involvement of Trump and those closest to him on Jan. 6 is critical.

“Is that what we want to establish a precedent for? That outgoing presidents can try to organize an insurrection against the vice president and encourage people who go out and stage a riot against the vice president of the United States and the Congress? I don’t think so," Raskin said.

“How we address Jan. 6 is the moral test of our generation," Cheney said.

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