The House of Representatives on Tuesday voted 222-208 to approve a resolution finding ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for refusing to appear and give evidence before the select committee investigating the January 6 insurrection.
Mr Meadows, who represented North Carolina’s 11th district from 2013 until he resigned to become former president Donald Trump’s top aide in April 2020, is the first ex-House member to be held in contempt by his former colleagues since Sam Houston suffered the same fate in 1832.
Nearly every Republican House member voted against sanctioning Mr Meadows for defying the subpoena authority they hope to wield if they regain control of the lower chamber in next year’s midterms, with only two GOP members — select committee Republican members Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger — joining the chamber’s 220 Democrats to vote in favour of the resolution against their former colleague.
The former North Carolina congressman — who was known as a zealous advocate for the House’s authority to compel testimony in matters under its jurisdiction — is the second witness to provoke a House resolution holding them in contempt by defying a subpoena from the January 6 select committee. The first, former Trump adviser turned podcast host Steve Bannon, is set to go on trial for two counts of criminal contempt of Congress next July.
As he opened debate on the measure Tuesday evening, select committee chairman Bennie Thompson said it was “regrettable” that the House was once again considering a criminal contempt resolution against a witness in his committee’s enquiry, but stressed that Mr Meadows “has left us no choice”.
“The Select Committee is investigating an attack on our democracy and it’s essential that witnesses cooperate with our investigation … the law requires them to do so, and when a witness defies the law, that amounts to more than obstruction of our investigation,” he said. “When you produce records, you are expected to come in and answer questions about those records. And because not even Mr Meadows was asserting any privilege claim over these records, he has no possible justification for wholesale refusing to answer questions about them.”
Mr Thompson said Mr Meadows’ refusal to cooperate was “not about any privilege or immunity,” but was about Mr Meadows refusing to comply with a subpoena to discuss the records he himself turned over”.
“Now he’s hiding behind excuses. And at the end of the day, it’s a simple proposition. If you’re making excuses to avoid cooperating with eye investigation, you’re making excuses to hide the truth from the American people about what happened on January 6. You’re making excuses as part of a cover-up,” he said.
Outside the House chamber, Colorado Rep Jason Crow, a Democrat, told The Independent that it was “extremely important” for Congress to enforce its own subpoenas and “impose consequences” on those who attempt to defy the rule of law.
Speaking on the House floor during debate over the contempt resolution, Ms Cheney said the select committee members wished that they did not have to bring Mr Meadows, a former colleague, up for a vote on whether to hold him in contempt of Congress.
“We don’t take this step lightly … for weeks, the committee has worked with Mr Meadows and with his counsel to reach an agreement on cooperation,” she said.
Ms Cheney said Mr Meadows was improperly asserting privileges that he had no right to assert, but said the contempt resolution against him “relates principally to his refusal to testify about messages and other communications that he admits are not privileged”.
“He has not claimed and he does not have privilege to refuse entirely to testify regarding these topics,” she said.
The Wyoming Republican said one of the non-privileged topics included communications he had sent and received “multiple times” to and from another member of Congress who was working with Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark on a plan to use the department to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
“Mr Meadows has no basis to refuse to testify regarding those communications. He is in contempt,” Ms Cheney said. “There has been no stronger case in our nation’s history for a congressional investigation. Into the actions of a former president. This body must investigate the facts in detail and we are entitled to ask Mr Meadows about the non-privileged materials he has produced to us”.
But one of Ms Cheney’s Republican colleagues, Virginia Representative Bob Good, told The Independent that the committee’s investigation was, in his estimation, a “sham investigation”.
“It’s a sham partisan witch hunt … there’s only Democrats like Kinzinger, Cheney, and the rest of the Democrats on it,” he said.
A short time after Ms Cheney finished speaking, Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Banks of Indiana slammed the efforts of Ms Cheney and the select committee as “just nine members picked by Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi” who were “trampling on America’s constitutional rights” and seeking to jail political opponents.
But Maryland Representative Steny Hoyer, the House Majority Leader, said he was not surprised that Mr Banks and other Republicans who voted against certifying Mr Biden’s victory on the day of the Capitol attack would oppose the contempt resolution against Mr Meadows.
“He voted against certifying the election of the President of the United States so I’m not surprised that the gentleman from Indiana does not want to see this subpoena honoured, because … I believe that he fears the information that would be brought forward,” Mr Hoyer said. “Fearing the truth is not an excuse for not honouring a subpoena of this Congress.”
Once thought to be next in line for the chairmanship of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Reform, Mr Meadows now faces the very real possibility of being subject to a criminal indictment by a District of Columbia grand jury on charges which could see him incarcerated for up to a year.
For a time, it appeared that Mr Meadows might avoid suffering the ignominy of being the subject of a contempt resolution offered up by his former colleagues. As recently as two weeks ago, it appeared that he would be cooperating with the select committee’s investigation into the worst attack on the Capitol since the 1814 Burning of Washington.
According to Mississippi Representative and select committee chairman Bennie Thompson, the former White House chief of staff’s initial response to the 23 September subpoena included the production of over 9,000 separate records, including text messages, emails, and other documents sent and received by his personal mobile phone and private email accounts in the days leading up to the attack on the Capitol.
Mr Meadows turned over those documents without making any claim of privilege and was set to answer questions about them at an 8 December deposition. But he reversed course early last week, and in a letter to select committee chairman Bennie Thompson, Meadows attorney George Terwilliger said his client would not be appearing for the deposition because the committee had issued a “wide-ranging subpoena” for records held by his telecommunications service provider.
After Mr Thompson announced the committee’s intent to proceed with a contempt resolution against Mr Meadows, Mr Terwilliger followed up with another letter urging the committee not to do so, and claiming that recommending Mr Meadows be prosecuted for contempt “would be contrary to law, manifestly unjust, unwise, and unfair”.
The former congressman’s fate now rests in the hands of District of Columbia US Attorney Matthew Graves, the capital’s top federal prosecutor.
It was Mr Graves who presented the House’s case against Mr Bannon to the grand jury which indicted him just over a month after Ms Pelosi “certified” the House’s referral for prosecution.
One member of the select committee, California Representative Pete Aguilar, told The Independent he believes Mr Graves and Attorney General Merrick Garland will move quickly to honour the House’s referral of Mr Meadows.
“I’m confident that the Justice Department is independent,” he said. “They’ll make a recommendation following the law, just like they did with Mr Bannon.”
Mr Aguilar said he took “no joy” in voting to recommend that Mr Meadows be prosecuted for contempt of Congress because they had served in Congress together in years past.
“I was friendly with Mr Meadows. We disagreed on a lot of items … but we … hold each other to higher standards. I think someone who wore this pin and served under this dome, has a duty to protect and uphold the Constitution, and that means complying with lawful subpoenas. He’s not doing that right now,” he said. “And I think even if you asked Mark Meadows in 2016, he would want Congress to hold individuals who aren’t compliant, responsible.”