Congressional investigators say they’re prepared to seek criminal contempt charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows if he refuses to appear for a deposition on Friday.
Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), chair of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, said in a letter to Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger III, that Meadows’ continued resistance to cooperating with the panel lacked any plausible defense.
“Simply put, there is no valid legal basis for Mr. Meadows’s continued resistance to the Select Committee’s subpoena,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson’s contempt threat is the third he’s issued in recent weeks. The committee has held former Trump aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress, a charge the House referred last month to the Justice Department, where it remains pending. Thompson has also threatened contempt against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who helped orchestrate Trump’s effort to subvert the 2020 election results.
It’s unclear whether the Justice Department intends to act on the Bannon referral, and committee members have said it’s urgent for the department to act quickly or risk further stonewalling from Trump allies.
Terwilliger issued a statement earlier Thursday claiming that Meadows is “immune” from congressional testimony under long-standing Justice Department opinions. He said President Joe Biden is “the first President to make no effort whatsoever to protect presidential communications from being the subject of compelled testimony.” Meadows, Terwilliger added, will defer to an instruction from former President Donald Trump and decline to cooperate.
But those Justice Department opinions carry no legal weight, and Thompson noted that courts that have considered aspects of them have all rejected the notion that any presidential aides are “absolutely immune” from cooperating with congressional investigations. In addition, the legal opinions the department has relied on in previous administrations all dealt with sitting presidents, not aides to former presidents.
The White House on Thursday sought to bolster Thompson’s position, sending a letter to Terwilliger expressing Biden’s wish to waive executive privilege for testimony related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“For that reason, and others, your client has now been advised that (i) ‘an assertion of privilege is not justified with respect to testimony and documents’ relevant to the Select Committee’s investigation, and (ii) the President will not be asserting any claims of executive privilege or testimonial immunity regarding subjects about which the Select Committee seeks documents and testimony from Mr. Meadows,” Thompson wrote.
Thompson said he expected Meadows to provide all relevant documents and deposition testimony by Friday or face a likelihood of criminal and civil proceedings against him.
Thompson noted that even if Meadows intended to fight the committee’s requests, he was required to appear and assert any privileges he thinks would bar his testimony.
“If there are specific questions during that deposition that you believe raise legitimate privilege issues, Mr. Meadows should state them at that time on the record for the Select Committee’s consideration and possible judicial review,” Thompson wrote.
He added that any documents Meadows believes should not be disclosed should still be itemized in a “privilege log” so the committee can assess his claims.
Thompson indicated that Terwilliger did not respond to earlier inquiries that have no conceivable nexus to executive privilege.
“For example, my most recent letter to you listed eight questions on which the Select Committee seeks Mr. Meadows’s testimony related to his use of personal cellular devices and email accounts,” Thompson noted. “Your response did not address those issues and, instead, made general and unspecified blanket assertions of immunity and executive privilege.”