The U.S. House of Representatives has approved a resolution that calls on the Justice Department to formally charge Mark Meadows, former President Donald Trump’s chief of staff, with criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to testify to the special committee investigating the January 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol by Trump’s supporters.
The resolution passed the Democratic-led House late Tuesday night by a vote of 222-208, with just two Republicans joining all Democrats voting in favor. The two Republicans, Adam Kinzinger of Illinois and Liz Cheney, serve on the special committee with seven Democrats that voted unanimously Monday to recommend that Meadows face criminal charges.
Meadows handed over 6,600 pages of records taken from personal email accounts and about 2,000 text messages to the nine-member House of Representatives committee investigating the violence by hundreds of Trump supporters at the Capitol 11 months ago. The trouble happened as lawmakers were certifying that Democrat Joe Biden had defeated Trump in his reelection bid.
Meadows initially agreed to testify about his role before January 6 in trying to help Trump claim a second four-year term in the White House and his actions that day. Protesters, urged by Trump to “fight like hell” to keep him in office, stormed the Capitol, smashed windows and fought with police. Last week, Meadows changed his mind about testifying, citing Trump’s assertion of executive privilege to keep documents secret to inhibit the investigation.
“If you’re making excuses to avoid cooperating with our investigation, you’re making excuses to hide the truth from the American people about what happened on January 6th,” Mississippi Representative Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the chairman of the special committee, told lawmakers during a debate before Tuesday night’s vote.
Meadows served in the U.S. House of Representatives as a Republican from North Carolina from 2013 to 2020 before becoming Trump’s chief of staff. He is the first former congressman to be held in contempt since 1830.
Republican Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio condemned the resolution during the full House debate and defended his former colleague. “This is as wrong as it gets,” Jordan told lawmakers. “You all know it. But your lust for power, your lust to get your opponents, is so intense you don’t care.”
Ahead of Monday’s committee vote, Cheney detailed text messages sent to Meadows as the January 6 attack on the Capitol unfolded with prominent conservative media figures and one of Trump’s sons urging Meadows to encourage Trump to do more to halt the actions of his supporters.
Cheney said the messages show Trump’s “supreme dereliction” and raised questions about whether through his inaction he sought to interrupt the congressional task of certifying the presidential election result showing that he lost.
“These texts leave no doubt,” Cheney said. “The White House knew exactly what was happening at the Capitol.”
The House committee has already held another former Trump aide, Steve Bannon, in contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena to testify. Bannon was later indicted and, if convicted, could face up to a year in prison.
The investigative panel late Sunday issued a 51-page report that showed Meadows was deeply involved in trying to keep Trump in office even though the former president had lost five dozen court challenges in various states contesting his election loss and numerous vote recounts in individual political battleground states all upheld Biden’s victories.
State election officials often said there was no appreciable voter fraud, as Trump has alleged to this day, that would have changed the outcome in his favor.
If Meadows had appeared for a deposition, the committee said it would have questioned him about numerous documents he provided.
On Monday, Meadows said through his attorney that the committee’s referral was unwise, unfair and contrary to law, according to The Associated Press.
Meadows said in an interview on the Fox News cable network late Monday the committee’s decision was “disappointing, but not surprising.”
“This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again,” Meadows said.
In a November 7, 2020, email, the committee said that just days after Trump lost the election, Meadows discussed an effort to have state legislators in states Trump lost appoint electors supporting Trump rather than the pro-Biden electors a majority of voters had chosen.
In text messages with an unidentified senator, Meadows discussed Trump’s erroneous view that then-Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the Electoral College vote count as lawmakers officially certified the state-by-state tally on January 6. Pence drew Trump’s ire as he refused to upend the Electoral College vote, which Biden won by a 306-232 margin, the same count Trump won by in 2016.
A day before the riot occurred, Meadows said National Guard troops would be at the Capitol to “protect pro-Trump people.” Other emails touched on the rioting at the Capitol as it unfolded, with pro-Trump supporters shutting down the Electoral College vote count for hours before Biden was finally declared the winner in the early hours of January 7.
The committee also said it wants to ask Meadows about claims he made in his new book, “The Chief’s Chief,” about his time in the White House with Trump.
“Mr. Meadows has shown his willingness to talk about issues related to the Select Committee’s investigation across a variety of media platforms — anywhere, it seems, except to the Select Committee,” the panel wrote.
In turn, Meadows has sued the committee, asking a court to invalidate two subpoenas that he says are “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
The panel has interviewed nearly 300 witnesses and lawmakers linked in some way to the rioting or contesting of the election results. The committee says it is planning a series of hearings early next year to make public many of its findings.
Some of the more than 600 people charged in the rioting, often identified by boasts on social media accounts of being inside the Capitol, have been sentenced to prison terms of a few months or, in more serious cases, to more than four years. But most of the criminal charges have yet to be adjudicated.
Some information in this report came from The Associated Press and Reuters.