WASHINGTON — Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff under President Donald J. Trump, has reached an agreement with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol to provide documents and sit for a deposition, the panel said on Tuesday, a notable reversal for a crucial witness in the inquiry.
The change of stance for Mr. Meadows, who had previously refused to cooperate with the committee in line with a directive from Mr. Trump, came as the panel prepared to seek criminal contempt of Congress charges against a second witness who has defied one of its subpoenas. It marked a turnabout after weeks of private wrangling between the former chief of staff and the House committee over whether he would participate in the investigation and to what degree.
Mr. Meadows, a former Republican congressman from North Carolina, is the highest-ranking White House official to cooperate in any way with the inquiry.
“Mr. Meadows has been engaging with the select committee through his attorney,” Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and chairman of the panel, said in a statement. “He has produced records to the committee and will soon appear for an initial deposition.”
Mr. Thompson indicated that he was withholding judgment about whether Mr. Meadows was willing to cooperate sufficiently, adding, “The committee will continue to assess his degree of compliance with our subpoena after the deposition.”
Mr. Meadows’s lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III, suggested that there were strict limits to his client’s willingness to participate in the inquiry.
“As we have from the beginning, we continue to work with the select committee and its staff to see if we can reach an accommodation that does not require Mr. Meadows to waive executive privilege or to forfeit the longstanding position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress,” Mr. Terwilliger said in a statement. “We appreciate the select committee’s openness to receiving voluntary responses on nonprivileged topics.”
The deposition is expected to be private, as has been the panel’s practice with other witnesses.
Mr. Meadows’s testimony is seen as key to the committee’s investigation because he was deeply involved in Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election and could provide crucial insight into what the president was doing and saying as the attack unfolded on Jan. 6. Mr. Meadows is believed to have spent considerable time by Mr. Trump’s side at the White House as throngs of the president’s supporters stormed the Capitol. Mr. Meadows is said to have tried to enlist Ivanka Trump, Mr. Trump’s daughter, to reason with her father during the rampage.
In the weeks before the attack, Mr. Meadows repeatedly pushed the Justice Department to investigate unfounded conspiracy theories, according to emails provided to Congress, portions of which were reviewed by The New York Times. He contacted several state officials to encourage investigations into election fraud claims even after such allegations were dismissed by the courts. And he attended a meeting in late December with far-right Republican members of Congress who led the effort to challenge the electoral count on Jan. 6.
Mr. Meadows also was in communication with organizers of the rally near the White House that preceded the violence, the committee has said.
Among the panel’s questions for him are whether he was using a private cellphone to communicate on Jan. 6 and the location of his text messages from that day.
CNN earlier reported that Mr. Meadows had reached a deal with the committee.
It was not immediately clear how extensive his cooperation would be or which documents he had turned over, though Mr. Thompson said they contained “significant email traffic.” But investigators had a major incentive to negotiate a deal to sit down with him, in large part because they view him as central to the public’s understanding of how the events of Jan. 6 occurred.
“We’re seeing a game of chess in many ways between the committee and Meadows,” said Jonathan D. Shaub, a law professor at the University of Kentucky who worked at the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. “The committee very much wants to hear from Meadows. He may know the most of any witness, so the committee is willing to give a little bit.”
Members of the panel also believe that Mr. Meadows’s participation could be a strong signal to lower-ranking former White House staff members that they, too, should cooperate.
Citing Mr. Trump’s claim of executive privilege, Mr. Meadows’s lawyer, Mr. Terwilliger, wrote to the committee on Nov. 10 saying that his client could not “in good conscience” provide testimony out of an “appreciation for our constitutional system and the separation of powers.”
That stance was condemned by Mr. Thompson and the panel’s vice chairwoman, Representative Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming. They accused Mr. Meadows of defying a lawful subpoena and said that they would consider pursuing contempt charges to enforce it.
Mr. Thompson and Ms. Cheney called Mr. Trump’s privilege claims “spurious” and added that many of the matters they wished to discuss with Mr. Meadows were “not even conceivably subject to any privilege claim, even if there were one.”
On Wednesday, the committee is expected to begin contempt of Congress proceedings against Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official involved in Mr. Trump’s effort to upend the election, when it holds a voting session to recommend that the full House find him in criminal contempt.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry
A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid an attempt by Mr. Trump to keep personal records secret and the indictment of Stephen K. Bannon for contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
The vote would be the second such confrontation between the committee and an ally of the former president since Congress began investigating the circumstances surrounding the Capitol riot, which resulted in multiple deaths and dozens of injuries.
Mr. Trump did not immediately issue a public statement about Mr. Meadows’s deal with the panel, but he attacked the committee on Tuesday for moving against Mr. Clark.
“Interesting to watch the unselect committee go after the gentleman at the Department of Justice who thought the election was rigged, but not go after the people who did the rigging,” Mr. Trump said in a statement denouncing the panel.
The House voted in October to recommend that another of the former president’s associates, Stephen K. Bannon, be charged with criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with the inquiry. A federal grand jury subsequently indicted him on two counts that could carry up to two years behind bars in total.
Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee, said the actions against Mr. Bannon and Mr. Clark sent a clear message that the panel would strongly enforce its subpoenas.
He said there were a range of questions that the committee wanted to ask Mr. Meadows that no witness could see as objectionable.
“There are many things that we need to hear from witnesses asserting executive privilege that are not even arguably related to executive privilege,” Mr. Raskin said. “We want to start with those. I do think there is a category of witnesses that does not want to be associated with the Steve Bannon obstructionist posture.”
On Tuesday, the panel also heard five hours of closed-door testimony from Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who stood up to Mr. Trump’s attempts to overturn the election there.
“His family has suffered because of his truthfulness,” Mr. Thompson said, adding of Mr. Raffensperger’s testimony: “There are some things that will come out. It was a long session.”
Emily Cochrane contributed reporting.
Source: NYT > U.S. > Politics