Jan. 6 committee votes to hold Trump's former chief of staff Meadows in contempt

By Maureen Chowdhury and Melissa Macaya, CNN

Updated 11:49 PM ET, Mon December 13, 2021
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11:46 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

The contempt resolution will now go to the House floor for a vote. Here's what the measure means. 

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the media at the White House in Washington, DC, October 21, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks to the media at the White House in Washington, DC, October 21, 2020. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Members of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol have shown they're willing to pursue criminal contempt referrals against witnesses who refuse to comply with the panel's subpoenas.

Former President Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows is the latest official to face such a referral from the panel. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said that Meadows left the committee with "no choice but to advance contempt proceedings" after he stopped cooperating with the panel.

Members voted Monday night to formally advance the criminal contempt report against Meadows for a full floor House vote, which is expected to come Tuesday. The vote on the resolution by the full House is the last step before sending the referral to the Justice Department.

But what does criminal contempt mean? It is one of the three options the congressional panel can pursue to enforce its subpoenas, along with civil and inherent contempt.

Once a criminal contempt referral clears the House select committee, it heads to the full House for a vote. If that vote succeeds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi certifies the report to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia.

Under law, this certification then requires the United States attorney to "bring the matter before the grand jury for its action," but the Justice Department will also makes its own determinations for prosecuting.

Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress is then guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months imprisonment. But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time.

As severe as a criminal contempt referral sounds, the House's choice to use the Justice Department may be more of a warning shot than a solution. Holding a person in criminal contempt through a prosecution could take years, and historic criminal contempt cases have been derailed by appeals and acquittals.

The committee approved a criminal contempt report against Trump ally Steve Bannon in October after he refused to comply with a subpoena deadline.

Read more about criminal contempt and how it compares with civil and inherent contempt.

CNN's Zachary Cohen, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Whitney Wild and Kristen Holmes contributed to this report.

10:33 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Meadows calls Jan. 6 committee contempt vote "disappointing, but not surprising"

From CNN's James Sims and Brian Rokus

Mark Meadows told Fox News' Sean Hannity that tonight’s contempt vote in the Jan. 6 committee was "disappointing, but not surprising."

He then accused the committee of not having a legislative purpose and using him to go after former President Trump.

There was no mention of tonight’s newly revealed texts.

Meadows reiterated what he’s said before about working with the committee, noting that he's "tried to share non-privileged information, but truly the executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is his to waive, it’s not mine to waive, it’s not Congress’ to waive. That’s why we filed the lawsuit.”

Meadows also addressed his Jan. 5 email in which he said that "the National Guard would be present to 'protect pro Trump people' and that many more would be available on standby."

President Trump wanted “to make sure everything was safe and secure,” Meadows told Hannity.

 

9:49 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Thompson: Committee has received "quite revealing" information about members of Congress involved in Jan. 6

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack, speaks to reporters after the conclusion of a business meeting on Capitol Hill on December 13, in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)
Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the select committee investigating the January 6 attack, speaks to reporters after the conclusion of a business meeting on Capitol Hill on December 13, in Washington, DC. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chair of the Jan. 6 select committee, told reporters after their meeting that the information they have revealed from former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is just a small sample of what the committee has received.

It has led him and the committee to believe that members of Congress were more involved in efforts to overturn the election results than people realize.

“The information we've received has been quite revealing about members of Congress involved in the activities of January 6, as well staff,” Thompson said.

Thompson refused to name those members but said their identities would be shared with the public at some point.

Rep. Pete Aguilar, also a member of the committee, said that the panel believes they have built a strong case for Meadows to be convicted of contempt, even though his situation is different than that of Steve Bannon or Jeffery Clark.

“The Courts have made it very clear that executive privilege is not absolute. And that's exactly what Mr. Meadows is claiming. And the fact that he sent us all these documents shows that he understands that he doesn't enjoy absolute privilege. These were non privileged documents that he sent according to he and his attorney and he should have to come talk about them,” Aguilar said. 

The lawmaker went on to say that asking Meadows questions about the information they’ve learned from the documents is a crucial part of their investigation and something he can’t avoid by hiding behind a privilege claim.

“One, Mr. Meadows provided them so they they can't be privileged if he provided them, but it helps tell the narrative that there were people in this building, people like me on the House floor, who were asking Mr. Meadows for help. And it's unfortunate that, that he couldn't get the President to do anything about it until the very end. And so those are questions that we have for Mr. Meadows, those are things that he should have to account for and explain," he said.

Aguilar said he believes Meadows backed away from his promise to cooperate with the committee because “President Trump told him to.”

He also said he believes there is still a lot of information Meadows has yet to share.

“There's clearly a lot of information. The contempt report talks about the privilege log. That was part of the discussion as well, his 1,000 text messages that were, that were part of that log that that we do not have the contents of those. So there's a lot more information that we feel Mr. Meadows has about the events that took place," he told reporters.

 

10:39 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

The Jan. 6 panel unveiled texts Trump's chief of staff got as the riot unfolded. Here's what we learned.

From CNN's Zachary Cohen and Ryan Nobles

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Brent Stirton/Getty Images)

The Jan. 6 committee revealed during Monday's meeting texts between former President Trump's chief of staff Mark Meadows and lawmakers, Fox News personalities, and Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr., about the urgency for Trump to stop the siege.

Those texts, as several members of the committee noted, were already turned over to the committee and are not covered by any claim of privilege — which Meadows has continued to assert since reversing his decision to cooperate with the investigation.

The messages serve as evidence of Trump's "supreme dereliction of duty," the committee's vice chairwoman, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said Monday.

The Jan. 6 committee publicly released graphics that include texts sent to Meadows during the days around the insurrection.

The committee pointed to texts exchanged between Meadows and lawmakers, Fox News personalities and Trump's eldest son about the urgency for the former president to act to stop the siege.

Here's what the texts said:

Texts from unnamed lawmakers sent to Meadows said that former Vice President Mike Pence "should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all."

Cheney said other texts were sent in real time about the events as they unfolded.

"These text messages leave no doubt. The White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol," Cheney said.

"One text Mr. Meadows received said quote 'We are under siege here at the Capitol,'" she read.

"In a third, 'Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?' A fourth, 'There's an armed standoff at the House chamber door.' And another from someone inside the Capitol: 'We are all helpless.'"

Cheney also read texts from news personalities from Fox News and Trump's own children.

"As the violence continued, one of the President's sons texts Mr. Meadows, 'He's got to condemn this ASAP. The capitol police tweet is not enough,' Donald Trump Jr. texted. Meadows responded, 'I am pushing it hard. I agree.'"

Cheney continued:

"Donald Trump Jr. texted again and again, urging action by the President. Quote, 'We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far. And gotten out of hand,' end quote. But hours passed without necessary action by the President," Cheney said.

When the events of the certification of the Electoral College eventually happened in the early hours of Jan. 7, Meadows received a text calling Jan. 6 a "terrible day."

"Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objections to the 6 states," the text read. "I'm sorry nothing worked."

7:59 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Jan. 6 committee votes to recommend contempt charges for Mark Meadows

From CNN's Zachary Cohen, Ryan Nobles and Kristin Wilson

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol voted Monday to recommend that former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows be referred to the Department of Justice on criminal contempt of Congress charges for his refusal to cooperate with the committee or appear for a scheduled deposition. 

Rep. Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, made the motion for the committee to vote for the contempt resolution.

The vote in the committee, made up of nine lawmakers, was unanimous. The contempt resolution is expected to come to the House floor for a vote on Tuesday.

“Mr. Meadows started by doing the right thing — cooperating. He handed over records that he didn’t try to shield behind some excuse,” Rep. Bennie Thompson, the committee's chair, said. “But in an investigation like ours, that’s just a first step. 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.”

The committee showed texts sent between Meadows and lawmakers, Fox News personalities and then-President Trump’s own son about the urgency for the former president to act to stop the siege.

8:37 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Jan. 6 committee releases texts of Meadows' conversations with lawmakers, Trump’s son and Fox News hosts

From CNN's Ryan Nobles, Zachary Cohen and Kristin Wilson

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection has released more information about texts sent to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows during the days around the insurrection.

Texts from unnamed lawmakers sent to Meadows said that former Vice President Mike Pence “should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all.”

Rep. Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican and the committee's vice chairwoman, said other texts were sent in real time about the events as they unfolded.

“These text messages leave no doubt. The White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol,” Cheney said. “One text Mr. Meadows received said quote, ‘We are under siege here at the Capitol.’” 

“In a third, ‘Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?’ A fourth, ‘There's an armed standoff at the House chamber door.’ And another from someone inside the Capitol: ‘We are all helpless."

Cheney also read texts from news personalities from Fox News and Trump’s own son.

“Donald Trump Jr. texted again and again, urging action by the President. Quote, ‘We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far. And gotten out of hand’ end quote, but hours passed without necessary action by the President,” Cheney said.

When the events of the certification of the Electoral College eventually happened in the early hours of Jan. 7, Meadows received a text calling Jan,. 6 a “terrible day.”

“Yesterday was a terrible day. We tried everything we could in our objections to the 6 states,” the text read. “I’m sorry nothing worked.”

These are the text images shown in graphics during the committee meeting:

7:27 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Jan. 6 committee begins meeting to consider holding ex-White House chief of staff Meadows in contempt

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot is meeting now to consider a resolution to hold Mark Meadows, former chief of staff in the Trump White House, in contempt of Congress. 

"The select committee's report referring Mr. Meadows for criminal contempt charges is clear and compelling," Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, said during his remarks. "As White House chief of staff, Mr. Meadows played a role in or was witness to key events leading up to and including the January 6th assault on the United States Capitol." 

Thompson continued: "It comes down to this, Mr. Meadows started by doing the right thing, cooperating. He handed over records that he didn't try to shield behind some excuse. But in an investigation like ours, that's just the first step. When the records raise questions as these most certainly do, you have to come in and answer the questions. And when it is time for him to follow the law, come in and testify on those questions. He changed his mind. And he told us to pound sand. He didn't even show up. "

Meadows is the latest official to face the possibility of such a referral from the panel. The committee approved a criminal contempt report against Trump ally Steve Bannon in October after he refused to comply with a subpoena deadline. 

The committee was ready to move forward with holding former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark in contempt but is giving him another chance to testify as he says he plans to plead the Fifth.

 

7:07 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Jan. 6 committee chair will recognize any member who wishes to speak at meeting

From CNN's Ryan Nobles

A House select committee aide tells CNN that Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the panel, will recognize any member of the committee who wishes to speak on the resolution that will refer former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for criminal contempt.

In the past, only Thompson and Liz Cheney, vice chair of the panel, have spoken during business meetings of the committee that’s investigating Jan. 6.

Tonight, we expect to hear from several, if not all, of the members.

 

6:26 p.m. ET, December 13, 2021

Mark Meadows is suing the House Jan. 6 committee to block subpoenas

From CNN's Tierney Sneed and Ryan Nobles

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows is suing the House select committee investigating Jan. 6 and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asking a federal court to block enforcement of the subpoena the committee issued him as well as the subpoena it issued to Verizon for his phone records, according to the complaint filed Dec. 8.

The lawsuit came after the committee signaled it would pursue a criminal contempt referral against Meadows because of his refusal to sit for a deposition in the investigation into the Capitol riot. Meadows alleges that the subpoenas are "overly broad and unduly burdensome," while claiming that the committee "lacks lawful authority to seek and to obtain" the information requested.

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who serves as vice chair of the panel, told CNN last Wednesday evening, "We look forward to litigating that." Cheney noted that Meadows is refusing to answer questions about documents that he turned over voluntarily.

"The committee has received a number of extremely interesting, non-privileged documents from Mr. Meadows. These include text messages and emails from his private cell phone and private email account. He's produced these documents, they are not privileged," she said. "They include documents that are directly related to what President Trump should have been doing on January 6 during the attack, and now he is refusing to appear to answer questions about those non-privileged documents."

The lawsuit points to President Biden's refusal to assert executive privilege, which former President Trump has sought, in the investigation — a dispute currently being litigated in a separate case Trump has brought seeking to block the release of his White House records to House investigators.

"As a result, Mr. Meadows, a witness, has been put in the untenable position of choosing between conflicting privilege claims that are of constitutional origin and dimension and having to either risk enforcement of the subpoena issued to him, not merely by the House of Representatives, but through actions by the Executive and Judicial Branches, or, alternatively, unilaterally abandoning the former president's claims of privileges and immunities," Meadows' lawsuit said.

Read more here.