The House voted Tuesday to hold former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress after he ceased to co-operate with the Jan. 6 Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection – making it the first time the House has voted to hold a former member in contempt since the 1830s.
The near-party-line 222-208 vote is the second time the special committee has sought to punish a witness for defying a subpoena. The vote is the latest show of force by the Jan. 6 panel, which is leaving no angle unexplored – and no subpoena unanswered – as it investigates the worst attack on the Capitol in more than 200 years. Lawmakers on the panel are determined to get answers quickly, and in doing so reassert the congressional authority that eroded while former President Donald Trump was in office.
“History will be written about these times, about the work this committee has undertaken,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, R-Miss., the chairman. “And history will not look upon any of you as a martyr. History will not look upon you as a victim.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., another member of the panel, began Tuesday’s debate on the resolution by reading frantic texts from the day of the attack revealing members of Congress, Fox News anchors and even Trump’s son urging Meadows to persuade the outgoing president to act quickly to stop the three-hour assault by his supporters.
The House vote sends the matter to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.
If convicted, Bannon and Meadows could each face up to one year behind bars on each charge.
The nine-member panel voted 9-0 Monday night to recommend charges against the former North Carolina congressman who left in March 2020 to become Trump’s chief of staff.
Republicans on Tuesday called the action against Meadows a distraction from the House’s work, with one member calling it “evil” and “un-American.”
Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, took to the floor to praise Meadows: “Make no mistake, when Democrats vote in favour of this resolution, it is a vote to put a good man in prison.”
Trump has also defended Meadows in an interview, saying: “I think Mark should do what’s right. He’s an honourable man. He shouldn’t be put through this.”
And Meadows’ attorney George Terwilliger defended his client in a statement before the vote, noting that he had provided documents to the panel and maintaining that he should not be compelled to appear for an interview.
Terwilliger said, “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 co-operation has produced.”
Meadows himself has sued the panel, asking a court to invalidate two subpoenas that he says are “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
Meanwhile, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell told reporters: “I do think we’re all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side. And it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.”
He added that he was not in contact with Meadows on the day of the attack.
Democrats quoted at length from Jan. 6 text messages provided by Meadows while he was co-operating with the committee.
“We need an Oval Office address,” Donald Trump Jr. texted, the committee said, as his father’s supporters were breaking into the Capitol, sending lawmakers running for their lives and interrupting the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential victory. “He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Trump Jr. added, “He’s got to condemn this s – ASAP.” In response to one of Trump Jr.’s texts, Meadows said: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
Members of the committee said the texts raise fresh questions about what was happening at the White House – and what Trump himself was doing – as the attack was under way. The committee had planned to question Meadows about the communications, including 6,600 pages of records taken from personal e-mail accounts and about 2,000 text messages. The panel has not released any of the communications in full.
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel’s vice chairwoman, said at the committee’s Monday evening meeting that an important issue raised by the texts is whether Trump sought to obstruct the congressional certification by refusing to send a strong message to the rioters to stop.
“These texts leave no doubt,” Cheney said. “The White House knew exactly what was happening at the Capitol.”
The investigating panel has already interviewed more than 300 witnesses, and subpoenaed more than 40 people, as it seeks to create the most comprehensive record yet of the lead-up to the insurrection and of the violent siege itself.
If Meadows had appeared for his deposition, lawmakers had planned to ask him about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in the weeks before the insurrection, including his outreach to states and his communications with members of Congress.
The panel says it wanted to know more about whether Trump was engaged in discussions regarding the response of the National Guard, which was delayed for hours as the violence escalated and the rioters beat police guarding the Capitol building.
The documents provided by Meadows include an e-mail he sent to an unidentified person saying that the Guard would be present to “protect pro Trump people,” the panel said, and that more would be available on standby. The committee did not release any additional details about that e-mail.
Committee staff said they would have interviewed Meadows about emails “to leadership at the Department of Justice on December 29 and 30th, 2020, and January 1, 2021, encouraging investigations of suspected voter fraud,” even though election officials and courts across the country had rejected those claims.
Texts show top Trump defenders’ private alarm on Jan. 6
As a mob overran the U.S. Capitol last January, some of Donald Trump’s highest-profile defenders in the media – and even his own son – sent urgent text messages to the White House chief of staff urging him to get the then-president to do more to stop the violence.
But they did not publicly display that same sense of alarm mere hours after the deadly insurrection. And they have since joined some of the country’s top Republicans in downplaying Trump’s role in the attack – part of a larger effort to rewrite the history of Jan. 6.
Here are some of the frantic messages that Trump allies sent to White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as the insurrection was unfolding and what they’ve said publicly about the events since then:
DONALD TRUMP JR.
“He’s got to condemn this s-– ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough,” Mr. Trump’s eldest son wrote in a text message to Mr. Meadows about his father. That’s according to excerpts read Monday by Liz Cheney of Wyoming, vice chair of a House committee investigating what happened.
Earlier on Jan. 6, before the violence, the younger Mr. Trump tweeted that his father “has the people!!!” over a picture of throngs of pro-Trump demonstrators who gathered in Washington. When word began to surface that the Capitol was breached, Mr. Trump Jr. changed his tone, tweeting, “This is wrong and not who we are. Be peaceful,” and “Don’t start acting like the other side. We have a country to save and this doesn’t help anyone.”
But, barely a week later – and after the House impeached president Trump for inciting the insurrection – Mr. Trump Jr. began advancing the false narrative that authorities knew violence was coming on Jan. 6 but didn’t do enough to prepare – in part because House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ignored warnings about what might occur.
“If these federal law enforcement agencies had prior knowledge that this was a planned attack then POTUS didn’t incite anything,” Mr. Trump Jr. tweeted on Jan. 14. “If he didn’t incite anything then Nancy Pelosi and the Dems used impeachment on yet another sham political witch-hunt.”
GOP members of Congress, including House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, have since advanced similarly false claims about Pelosi delaying military assistance to help Capitol Police officers trying to quell the attack.
“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” the Fox News Channel host wrote, according to text excerpts Cheney read. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”
But on her show the evening of Jan. 6, Ms. Ingraham cited false claims that the rioters included leftist provocateurs, saying, “They were likely not all Trump supporters, and there are some reports Antifa sympathizers may have been sprinkled throughout the crowd.”
She added: “If you are a Trump supporter hoping to display your support for the president, well, today’s antics at the Capitol did just the opposite.” Ms. Ingraham also made a false assertion that there were “legitimate concerns” that voter fraud potentially marred the 2020 election won by Democrat Joe Biden, but she noted, “That never should have lent any license to violence or other chaos.”
Ms. Ingraham has since repeatedly downplayed the Jan. 6 attack. In April, she said that “America’s most dangerous insurrectionists” weren’t those who participated in the mob. Instead, she said, “The real threat to our future is Biden, and the well-heeled, powerful forces who want us to lose sight of what made America great in the first place.”
During a March phone interview with Mr. Trump, Ms. Ingraham asked him: “Are you concerned that the U.S. Capitol, after Jan. 6, has become a fortress, protecting the Capitol from the people who are supposed to actually be the ones in charge here, not the people who are sitting in the Capitol?” She then didn’t object when Mr. Trump said that the mob posed “zero threat” and suggested that authorities were “persecuting a lot of those people” for being a part of it.
“Can he make a statement? Ask people to leave the Capitol?” the Fox News Channel host wrote to Mr. Meadows about Mr. Trump, according to text excerpts read by Ms. Cheney.
During his show the evening of Jan. 6, Mr. Hannity said those responsible for the attack “must be arrested and prosecuted to the full extent of the law,” but he also quickly raised concerns that law enforcement wasn’t ready for what happened.
“I don’t care if the radical left, radical right – I don’t know who they are. They’re not people I would support,” Mr. Hannity said then. “So how were officials not prepared? We got to answer that question. How did they allow the Capitol building to be breached in what seemed like less than a few minutes?”
During his show on Monday, Mr. Hannity called the House committee investigating the attack a “Democrat sham” and a “waste of your time and money.” He also falsely said Mr. Trump had pushed for extra Capitol protection before Jan. 6 but was denied by Pelosi.
Mr. Meadows was a guest on Mr. Hannity’s Monday show, but neither mentioned the text messages.
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