Mark Meadows’ lawyer urges House panel against contempt and charges
WASHINGTON – An attorney for former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has urged the House committee investigating the January 6 insurgency on Capitol Hill not to prosecute charges of criminal contempt for his disregard for the assignment of the panel.
Lawyer George Terwilliger told the committee on Monday that referring the case to the Justice Department would be “against the law” because Meadows was acting in good faith to keep communications with former President Donald Trump confidential by under executive privilege.
“It would serve badly for the country to rush to pass judgment on the matter,” Terwilliger said in a seven-page letter to the committee.
Meadows initially cooperated with the committee and provided documents, but has since refused to provide disputed documents or to appear for testimony. The committee is due to vote Monday night to recommend that the entire House find Meadows in contempt for defying a subpoena.
A 51 page report prepared for the committee vote on Monday alleged Meadows had provided no justification for claiming executive privilege and refused to answer questions unrelated to executive privilege.
“To be clear, Mr. Meadows’ breach and this recommendation for contempt are not based on good faith disagreements over claims of privilege,” the report said. “On the contrary, Mr. Meadows did not comply and justify a contempt finding because he totally refused to testify and answer questions regarding even clearly unprivileged information – information that he himself has. identified as unprivileged through its own production of documents.
On Wednesday, Meadows sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., And the United States District Court Committee, arguing the subpoena was “too broad and unduly onerous.” He also questioned the legitimacy of the committee and argued that the committee “threatens to violate long-standing principles of executive privilege and immunity which are constitutional in origin and dimension.”
Trump is also fighting a subpoena for his administration’s documents at the National Archives and Records Administration. the DC Court of Appeals Ruled Against Trump and in favor of the committee receiving the documents because President Joe Biden waived executive privilege. But Trump should appeal to the Supreme Court.
The House committee has scheduled a vote on Monday evening to recommend that the entire House find Meadows in contempt for defying a subpoena for documents and testimony.
The Plenary Assembly has yet to vote on the contempt citation and the criminal discharge. Meadows could become the second Trump administration official sued for contempt, with political strategist Steve Bannon.
The committee also recommended the contempt and criminal prosecution of former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. But a House vote on the measure was postponed because Clark is due to meet with the committee on Thursday and declined to answer questions under his Fifth Amendment law against self-incrimination.
Almost 300 people collaborated with the committee. Panel plans weeks of hearings next year on his findings on what led to the attack on the Capitol, which injured 140 police officers and temporarily halted the counting of the Electoral College’s votes.
• SMS he exchanged with an organizer of the January 6 rally on the Ellipse, after the organizer told him that ”[t]Things have gotten crazy and I desperately need some direction. Please.”
• An email to an individual about the events of January 6 asking if the National Guard would be present to “protect the pro Trump” and that many more would be available on standby.
• Text messages and emails received by Meadows regarding apparent efforts to encourage Republican lawmakers in certain states to send alternative voters lists to Congress, a plan which a member of Congress acknowledged as “very controversial” and to which Meadows replied, “I love it.”
Terwilliger told the committee that the criminal contempt law was not intended to apply to good faith assertions of executive privilege. Despite regular disagreements between the executive and Congress over questions of privilege and withholding of documents, the law was not used against an executive official for 125 years after its passage – until 1982.
“The criminal contempt of the statute of Congress was originally enacted as an addition to the inherent powers of Congress for contempt, in particular to allow the imprisonment of a contemptuous witness at the end of the legislative session,” Terwilliger said. “The inherent contempt power – predecessor of the criminal contempt power – has never been used against a member of the executive who has asserted executive privilege.”
Terwilliger compared the Meadows case to an allegation of non-payment of an income tax form by claiming that Meadows made a good faith effort to uphold the confidentiality of executive privilege rather than intentionally committing acts reprehensible.
“This is different from a case where an individual intentionally defies a legal subpoena on the advice of a lawyer,” Terwilliger said.
Terwilliger also argued that executive privilege protects the institution of the presidency, rather than a specific occupier such as Trump.
“These protections do not exist for the personal benefit of an executive adviser, but to protect the institution of the presidency,” Terwilliger said. “Compulsory immunity must also extend to former assistants because if the simple passage of a position from one administration to another extinguished the privilege, it would not be a privilege at all.”
The appeals commission judges who heard Trump’s case noted this conflict between administrations, but ruled that the current president’s perspective on executive privilege trumps a former president.
The committee’s report alleged that Meadows had not provided any justification for a claim of executive privilege.
“Sir. Meadows has refused to provide the select committee with information and testimony that has no conceivable claim of privilege associated with it,” the committee report said.