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Ahead of panel vote, Meadows' attorney says contempt referral runs contrary to law

FILE - White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters outside the White House, Oct. 26, 2020, in Washington. The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection says it has “no choice” but to move forward with contempt charges against former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
Then-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows speaks with reporters outside the White House on Oct. 26, 2020, in Washington.

Hours before a House select committee was set to vote for Mark Meadows' referral for criminal contempt, the former Trump White House chief of staff said through his attorney that the effort was unwise, unfair and contrary to law. The remarks were part of a six-page letter attorney George Terwilliger sent to the Democratic-led House panel's chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and ranking Republican Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. Meadows and his attorney went on to argue that a criminal referral of a senior-most presidential adviser declining to testify before Congress would violate separation of powers principles. "It would ill-serve the country to rush to judgment on the matter," Terwilliger said.Last month, Meadows began initially complying with the committee, turning over thousands of pages of documents, including emails and text messages, and agreed to appear for a deposition. However, he reversed plans on Dec. 7, the day before the scheduled deposition. Also last week, Meadows' book covering his time in the White House, The Chief's Chief, was released, complicating his claims he could not discuss certain conversations with former President Trump. Meadows then sued the committee in an effort to block enforcement of subpoenas it had issued. At the heart of the disagreement is Meadows' claim that executive privilege, a legal shield that protects presidential communications, blocks him from cooperating; Trump directed Meadows after his Sept. 23 subpoena not to share certain documents or conversations as a result of the privilege claim.However, President Biden waived executive privilege in Meadows' case, which supersedes any other claims, the committee argues. Executive privilege is also at the center of a Trump lawsuit, which could get taken up by the Supreme Court.

Meadows has turned over about 6,600 pages of records and about 2,000 text messages

Meadows' latest argument on Monday comes just before an evening meeting by the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to vote for referral for criminal contempt of Congress. It's the third such case for the committee, following ex-Trump strategist Steve Bannon and former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. Late Sunday, the committee released a 51-page contempt report along with more than a dozen exhibits documenting their exchanges with Meadows since he was among the first witnesses subpoenaed by the panel."Mark Randall Meadows is uniquely situated to provide critical information about the events of January 6, 2021, as well as efforts taken by public officials and private individuals to spread the message of widespread fraud in the November 2020 election and to delay or prevent the peaceful transfer of power," the report reads.The report notes that during a short window when Meadows was cooperating, he turned over about 6,600 pages of records from his personal email accounts, plus about 2,000 personal text messages to the committee.The committee said Meadows refused to provide testimony on the documents and a long list of interests for the panel. In all, the panel said Meadows missed three scheduled deposition dates, in October, November and December.

Documents Meadows shared were previewed at the deposition he missed on Dec. 8

In a transcript of Meadows' missed Dec. 8 deposition, a senior committee staffer discusses topics of interest, previewing some of the documents Meadows shared, including a Jan. 5 email from Meadows that said the National Guard would "protect pro-Trump people" the next day. The staffer said they also wanted to ask Meadows about his texts with congressional members starting in late 2020, including one exchange involving an unnamed senator regarding then-Vice President Mike Pence. In that instance, Meadows discussed Pence's power to reject election results, saying Trump ''thinks the legislators have the power, but the VP has power, too." The panel said they also wanted to ask Meadows about Dec. 12 text messages with a media personality regarding the negative impact of Trump's election challenges on the Senate runoff elections in Georgia and his prospects for re-election 2024, and Meadows possible employment by an unnamed news channel. Had Meadows appeared, many of his responses to questions on those topics were likely free of executive privilege claims, members of the committee have argued. "We are disappointed in Mr. Meadows' failure to appear as planned, as it deprives the select committee of an opportunity to develop relevant information in Mr. Meadows' possession and to, more specifically, understand the contours of his executive privilege claim," the committee staffer said in the Dec. 8 deposition transcript. The report also documents other areas of interest for the committee, including Meadows' trip to Georgia to observe an audit of presidential election results; claims of election fraud Meadows forwarded to Justice Department leaders; and text messages encouraging certain state Republicans to send alternate slates of electors. The panel also documents a text from a rally organizer on Jan. 6 saying they needed direction because the event had turned "crazy" as well as Meadows' participation in a Dec. 18 meeting with Trump and others looking for ways to challenge the results, including seizing voting machines. Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.