President Joe Biden said on Wednesday he believed Mark Meadows, chief of staff to his predecessor Donald Trump, deserves to be held in contempt of Congress for his refusal to honor a subpoena related to the Jan. 6 insurrection on the U.S. Capitol.
“I don’t know enough – just what I’ve seen, I’ve not spoken to anyone. It seems to me he is worthy of being held in contempt,” Biden said in answer to a reporter’s question on the issue. Biden made the brief remark before leaving the White House for a visit to tornado-hit Kentucky.
Meadows could face criminal prosecution for refusing to cooperate fully with a probe into the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, after the House of Representatives voted on Tuesday to hold him in contempt of Congress.
The Department of Justice will now decide whether to pursue charges. They relate mainly to his refusal to heed a subpoena seeking his testimony about messages and other communications that he has turned over to the panel.
The House approved the resolution on Tuesday late Tuesday night in a largely party-line vote, 222-208. Just two Republicans — Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney and Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger, both of whom are on the House January 6th Committee — supported the resolution.
The Department of Justice will now decide whether to pursue charges. A conviction on the charge carries up to a year in prison.
The charges against Meadows relate mainly to his refusal to honor a subpoena seeking his testimony about messages and other communications that he has turned over to the panel.
Cheney, the panel’s vice chairwoman, read out panicked text messages from unidentified lawmakers and others — including three Fox News personalities and former President Trump’s son, Donald Jr. — pleading with Meadows on Jan. 6 to urge Trump to appear publicly and call off his followers. The texts surfaced during the Select Committee’s investigation.
“He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP. We need an Oval Office address,” Trump Jr. said in one text. In others, conservative media hosts made similar private pleas to Meadows – before playing down the violence of the attack on the air.
“The American people deserve to know all of the steps that Donald Trump and those around him and that his campaign were taking in an effort to change the results of the election,” Cheney said.
Trump repeated his false claim at a rally on Jan. 6 that his defeat by Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 2020 election was the result of widespread fraud, and urged his supporters to march on the Capitol as Congress gathered to certify Biden’s victory. Biden took office on Jan. 20.
Four people died on the day of the riot, and one Capitol police officer died the next day of injuries sustained while defending Congress. Hundreds of police were injured during the multi-hour onslaught by Trump supporters, and four officers have since taken their own lives.
The city of Washington on Tuesday sued two right-wing groups for the financial costs associated with the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol.
‘An attack on the rule of law’
House Republicans came up with an excuse to oppose the Meadows resolution: Many of them felt it was too early in the investigation to consider it.
Republican Representative Tom Cole argued it was too early for a contempt recommendation, given lawsuits filed by Trump and Meadows himself arguing that the former president’s communications should be protected by executive privilege and that committee subpoenas are too broad.
“Today’s action is wildly premature,” Cole said.
Cole was one of the dozens of Republicans who voted against certifying Biden’s election on Jan. 6 in the hours after the assault on the Capitol.
Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, chairman of the Select Committee, said the panel viewed the lawsuits as delaying tactics. “When a witness defies the law, that amounts to more than obstructing our investigation, it’s an attack on the rule of law,” he said in remarks urging support for the resolution citing Meadows.
Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger, said in a statement on Tuesday that his client had not stopped cooperating.
“He has maintained consistently that as a former chief of staff he cannot be compelled to appear for questioning and that he as a witness is not licensed to waive executive privilege claimed by the former president,” Terwilliger said.
A federal appeals court last week rejected Trump’s request to withhold documents because of executive privilege, noting that Biden, as president, has already authorized their release.
“Both branches agree that there is a unique legislative need for these documents and that they are directly relevant to the Committee’s inquiry into an attack on the legislative branch and its constitutional role in the peaceful transfer of power,” the court said.
Meadows could become the third Trump associate to face a criminal contempt charge. The Justice Department, at the House’s request, has brought similar charges against Trump’s former chief strategist, Steve Bannon.
The House is considering similar action against former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark.