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Jan. 6 committee refers Meadows for contempt of Congress charges

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack voted to recommend the House find Trump's former chief of staff in contempt after he refused to testify before the panel.

WASHINGTON (CN) — The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection recommended Congress move forward with contempt charges against former President Donald Trump's Chief of Staff Mark Meadows after he broke a tentative agreement to comply with the panel's subpoena, claiming his former position exempted him from having to testify.

The committee voted Monday night to recommend Congress find Meadows in contempt of Congress, a vote that follows dogged attempts by the panel to get him to turn over documents and speak openly about his involvement with Trump's movement to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, which culminated in the Jan. 6 attack by Trump supporters on the Capitol building.

"We do not do this lightly and indeed, we had hoped to not take this step at all," Representative Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, said.

Whether Meadows will be found in contempt of Congress is up to the House, which has to vote in favor of referring Meadows for charges in order for the U.S. attorney's office to consider criminal penalties.

Although Meadows did initially turn over nearly 6,000 pages of emails, texts and documents to the committee after reaching a tenuous agreement to comply with its investigation late last month, Meadow's assertions that executive privilege protected him from being deposed and having to turn over additional documents were the breaking point, with lawmakers demanding further information from the former White House official.

Ahead of the vote Monday, Cheney read out texts between Meadows and Donald Trump Jr. in which the former president's own son pleaded for Meadows to get the former president to step in and hold an Oval Office address as rioters broke into the Capitol, to which Meadows reportedly responded, “I’m pushing it hard, I agree."

Cheney said the documents and texts turned over by Meadows shine a disturbing light on conversations between the former president and his advisors on Jan. 6 and raise further questions about Trump's decision-making that require Meadows' testimony.

"These non-privileged texts are evidence of Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes and Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another key question before this committee: Did Donald Trump through action or inaction corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceedings to count electoral votes?" Cheney said.

The Monday night vote also surfaced texts between unnamed lawmakers and Meadows as the attack unfolded, with one member of Congress texting: "Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?" Another anonymous source inside of the building wrote simply: "We are all helpless."

A 51-page report published by the committee ahead of the vote to recommend sanctioning Meadows stressed that the top-level staffer, who was in contact or physically with Trump during much of the day on Jan. 6, refused to testify about documents he turned over, his communications with organizers of Jan. 6 rallies and his communications with the former president.

The report lays out a series of areas of concern that Meadows refused to provide testimony on.

It alleges Meadows wrote in an email prior to the attack that the National Guard would be on the scene to "protect pro Trump people," according to the report — a jarring revelation since the National Guard's delayed response to the violence by Trump supporters has drawn criticism since the attack.

The report also notes Meadows was in contact with at least one organizer of a Jan. 6 rally, who wrote to him on the day of the attack that left five people dead: "[T]hings have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction. Please."

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Text messages and emails turned over to the committee show Meadows strongly supported the scheme by Trump to encourage Republican state leaders to change which electors they were going to have certify the election, replacing their electors with representatives who would overthrow the election and vote for Trump instead. "I love it," the report notes Meadows said of the idea.

Meadows also visited Georgia in the days after the election to oversee an audit of the votes, an action he refused to provide the committee further detail on.

The report also highlights Meadows' connections to another former Trump administration official who has also defied compliance with the panel's investigation and faces potential contempt charges.

Meadows reportedly introduced the then-president to former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark who went on to become a close Trump confidante and urged officials within the department to tell states the election was under investigation in order to delay the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.

“When the records raise questions, as these most certainly do, you have to come in and answer those questions, and when it was time for him to follow the law, come in and testify on those questions, he changed his mind and told us to pound sand. He didn’t even show up," Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson said.

Meadows has repeatedly asserted that his former position as a White House official provides him with executive privilege and exempts him from discussing certain topics and turning over some documents to the committee, even going so far as to sue the committee over its subpoenas calling for him to testify.

The lawsuit slams the subpoenas for information from Meadows as "overly broad and unduly burdensome" and refers to the panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack as an "entirely partisan select committee."

The committee rejected the idea that executive privilege protections would cover all, if any, of the topics Meadows has evaded questioning on.

The report emphasized that no claims by Trump that executive privilege applies to Meadows have been reported to the panel and Biden has repeatedly emphasized that former officials are not immune from disclosing information critical to the Jan. 6 investigation.

"The Select Committee is confident that there is no conceivable immunity or executive privilege claim that could bar all of the Select Committee’s requests or justify Mr. Meadows’s blanket refusal to appear for the required deposition," the report reads.

It also pointed out the potential contradiction of Meadows' claims that information about his time in the White House is immune from public disclosure as he promotes his recently published book, "The Chief's Chief," which details his time in the White House and touches on the events of Jan. 6.

"And it is untenable in light of Mr. Meadows’s public descriptions of events in the book that he is trying to sell and during his numerous television appearances," the committee's report said of Meadows' claims of executive privilege.

Meadows isn't alone in his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the committee. Clark and former White House strategist Steve Bannon have both defied calls to aid the committee in its investigation. But the committee has retaliated to their refusals in kind.

Bannon was charged with and has pleaded not guilty to criminal contempt of Congress charges and the committee recommended the House vote to find Clark in contempt late last month.

Ahead of the Monday night vote, Thompson spoke directly to the officials who have defied the committee's subpoenas.

“If you are listening at home, Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, Mr. Clark, I want you to know this: History will be written about these times, about the work this committee has undertaken, and history will not look upon any of you as martyrs. History will not look upon you as a victim. History will not dwell upon your long list of privileged claims or your legal sleight of hand. History will record that in a critical moment in our democracy, most people were on the side of finding the truth of providing accountability of strengthening our system for future generations. And history will also record in this critical moment that some people were not, That some people hid behind excuses, went to great lengths to avoid answering questions and explaining what they had done and what they new. I predict that history will not be kind to those people," Thompson said.

Despite these roadblocks from former Trump officials, the committee has met with almost 300 witnesses ranging from White House aides to rally organizers and government officials and plans to meet with a dozen witnesses in the coming week according to Thompson.

Thompson said the committee has obtained more than 30,000 records throughout its investigation and aims to hold public hearings in the coming weeks once it “can tell the story all at once, start to finish."

But the continued threats of contempt have brought additional political ire from Republicans who have criticized the committee's investigation as a partisan endeavor and who will likely dissolve the investigation altogether if the GOP gains control of the House in 2022, leaving the panel with limited time to dig into the details of the events that led up to and played out on Jan. 6.

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