The House of Representatives found Mark Meadows in contempt of Congress for defying a congressional subpoena seeking information as part of the accelerating committee investigation into former president Donald Trump’s actions leading up to and during the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.
The vote late Tuesday night was 222–208 in favor of the resolution against Meadows, who was Trump’s chief of staff on Jan. 6 and is a former member of the House. The last time Congress found a former colleague in contempt was 1832.
Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who serve on the Jan. 6 committee, were the only Republicans to cross party lines on the vote.
“I take no joy in having to ask this House to make this referral. Mr. Meadows served here with us for seven years,” Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the committee, said before the vote. “But that doesn't excuse his conduct. If anything, he should know better.”
What happens next is in the hands of the Department of Justice; the US attorney’s office in Washington, DC, will decide whether or not to pursue charges against Meadows. Meadows is the second person the House has found in contempt in relation to the Jan. 6 investigation. Steve Bannon, who was found in contempt in October for defying a subpoena, was indicted just weeks later.
Meadows has been publicly combating the Jan. 6 committee for days, after initially cooperating and handing over thousands of pages of documents. On Friday, he sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and each committee member claiming the subpoenas compelling him to fully cooperate violate executive privilege and are illegal.
“Mr. Meadows’ sudden vanishing act is plainly a delay tactic designed to run out the clock on one of the most important investigations in the history of the United States of America,” Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the committee, said in his opening remarks on the House floor Tuesday.
Among Raskin’s arguments were that, in addition to having “nullified” claims of executive privilege by turning over about 9,000 pages of documents to the committee voluntarily, Meadows had gone on to talk about what happened that day in his new book and in the press. Raskin also noted that as a member of Congress, Meadows had himself insisted that administration members come in to testify before the body.
Republicans on the floor on Tuesday focused many of their remarks before the vote on the Biden administration, like inflation or stoking fear about migrants, rather than on the merits of the actual matter at hand. Debate also got heated, with one Republican member demanding that Democratic Majority Leader Steny Hoyer’s words be taken down, arguing that he had “disparaged” another Republican lawmaker by suggesting that the lawmaker, Rep. Jim Banks, who had spoken before Hoyer on the floor, was afraid of information that would come to light through the investigation. The request delayed the proceedings for approximately half an hour, but eventually Hoyer was found to have been in line with House rules.
Meadows has information of particular interest to the Jan. 6 committee. On Tuesday ahead of the vote, Cheney gave examples of the types of issues the investigatory committee wants to question Meadows on, including Trump’s refusal to step in immediately when the pro-Trump mob invaded the Capitol, Meadows’ knowledge of Trump’s efforts to place pressure on election officials to change results, and Meadows’ communications with a member of Congress who was “working” with Jeffrey Clark, an official Trump reportedly wanted to promote at the Department of Justice, to change its conclusion that the election was not rigged. The committee has already referred Clark for a contempt vote.
“How we address Jan. 6 is the moral test of our generation,” Cheney, a Republican, said in final remarks before the vote.
Some of what the committee is looking to know Meadows has already handed over. On Monday night, Cheney revealed some text messages Meadows received while the attack unfurled. That included texts from Fox News anchors and the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. pleading with Meadows to have Trump say something to stop the violence.
“He’s got to condemn this shit, ASAP,” Trump Jr. wrote to Meadows. “The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.”
She also read harrowing messages sent to Meadows from members of Congress and others in the Capitol while the attack was underway, including one person describing the “armed standoff” at the House chamber door involving Capitol Police officers and those who breached the building. Administration officials urged Meadows to ask the president to take immediate action, Cheney said. “POTUS has to come out firmly and tell the protesters to dissipate,” one person texted. “Someone is going to get killed.”
The committee last week revealed in a letter to Meadows’ lawyers that Meadows had supported plans to undermine the election to keep Trump in power. “I love it,” Meadows said in a text to an unnamed member of Congress of a scheme to appoint “alternate electors” who would back Trump when Congress certified the election on Jan. 6.
Meadows reversed course on complying with the committee because of what he argued was a request from the committee to a third-party communications provider that would have included personal information.