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Mark Meadows Held in Contempt of Congress as Jan. 6 Probe Expands. How Long Can Trump Hold Out?

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The U.S. House voted to recommend the Department of Justice charge former President Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows with criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack. The vote came after the committee released a series of text messages from Republican lawmakers and Fox News hosts to Meadows on January 6 that begged him to convince Trump to tell his followers to leave the Capitol. The messages show that Trump and his inner circle were “in the know” in the plot to overturn the election, says Daily Beast reporter Jose Pagliery.

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StoryDec 20, 2022In Historic First, House Committee Urges DOJ to Criminally Charge Trump for Jan. 6 Insurrection
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: The House voted to Tuesday to hold former President Trump’s Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Meadows is now the first former congressmember ever held in criminal contempt by Congress and the first held in contempt since 1832, when former Congressman Sam Houston was held in contempt for beating a colleague with a cane.

The vote came after the committee released a second batch of text messages from people begging Meadows to convince Trump to stop the deadly attack. This is Democratic Congressmember Jamie Raskin reading text messages sent to Meadows’ phone by Republicans on January 6th.

REP. JAMIE RASKIN: A whole set of messages that were discovered in asking questions to Mr. Meadows, including Republican lawmakers and others sending frantic messages saying, “We are under siege up here at the Capitol,” “They have breached the Capitol,” “Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on our doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?” “There’s an armed standoff at the House chamber door,” “We are all helpless.”

AMY GOODMAN: The text messages to Meadows are part of evidence he turned over to the committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. Tuesday’s vote came after the seven Democrats and two Republican committee members voted unanimously to seek contempt charges against Meadows. This is the vice chair of the committee, Republican Liz Cheney, reading private text messages sent to Meadows’ personal cellphone by Fox News hosts on January 6th.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: Quote, “Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home … this is hurting all of us … he is destroying his legacy,” Laura Ingraham wrote. “Please get him on TV. Destroying everything you have accomplished,” Brian Kilmeade texted. Quote, “Can he make a statement? … Ask people to leave the Capitol,” Sean Hannity urged. As the violence continued, one of the president’s sons texted Mr. Meadows, quote, “He’s got to condemn this [bleep] ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough,” Donald Trump Jr. texted.

AMY GOODMAN: Those were text messages sent to Trump’s former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows by Fox News hosts on January 6th. This was the response Monday on Fox News from Sean Hannity.

SEAN HANNITY: The hyperpartisan, predetermined outcome, anti-Trump January 6 committee just voted 9 to 0 to hold Mark Meadows in contempt for refusing to comply with their orders.

AMY GOODMAN: Sean Hannity also had Mark Meadows back as a guest on his show to discuss the vote to hold him in contempt, but Hannity did not bring up the text message he sent Meadows during the Capitol riots.

This comes as the January 6 committee has also voted to cite former White House adviser Stephen Bannon and ex-Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark for contempt of Congress after they refused to testify after receiving a subpoena.

For more, we’re joined Jose Pagliery. He is political investigations reporter at The Daily Beast. He’s been following all of this very closely. One of his latest pieces is headlined “Mark Meadows’ Personal Cell Is Becoming a Personal Hell.”

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Jose. So, let’s talk about the significance of this moment. This is the first time in U.S. history a congressmember has been held in criminal contempt and only the second time in, what, almost 200 years, been held in contempt. Talk about these thousands of pages that he himself gave to the committee, or his lawyers did, based on — we don’t even know his official phone, his White House phone, but this was his personal cellphone, thousands of pages, even though he is refusing to cooperate.

JOSE PAGLIERY: Well, good morning, Amy.

I’ve got to say, this is also the first time in history that a former member of Congress has become a chief of staff who tried to help a president stage a coup. And so what we’re seeing here is absolutely new ground, but it’s par for the course.

So, Mark Meadows and his situation is quickly worsening, and to understand it, we’ve got to realize this is the problem that a man creates by himself by only going halfway. He received a subpoena from the committee to turn over documents and to show up for a deposition. And just recently did we discover that this entire time that the committee has been saying that they’ve been engaging with him, what’s actually been going on behind the scenes is that they’ve just been delaying — not the committee; Mark Meadows and his legal team. So, for the past two months they fought off showing up for the deposition. They fought off any document — you know, turning over any documents. It wasn’t until really the end of November, basically, where they started turning over reams of data.

And when they did, what’s curious here is that it didn’t come from the kind of stuff that you’d expect to be at the National Archives, like the things that would be on his official phone or his official computer. What he was turning over was stuff from two Gmail accounts and his personal cellphone. Now, this is where it gets really curious, because, first off, you’re not supposed to have official work on your personal electronics. He would know that. This is one of the top Republicans who went after Hillary Clinton for her emails in her private server. And so he knew that from the beginning.

But in turning over this stuff over to the committee, he was also trapping himself, essentially. One, he was trying to claim executive privilege on some of them, thereby admitting that, essentially, it shouldn’t be in his possession now. And, two, the stuff he was turning over hinted at what could be in the other material that he’s not turning over. Like you said, these text messages between him and Fox News hosts and the text messages that he got from Donald Trump Jr. clearly show that he was in the know on January 6th, in the run-up to and after, on this plot to stop the certification of election results from 2020.

But the trap that’s really going to get him here is the following. It’s three parts. One, if these are official texts, they shouldn’t be on his personal cellphone. Two, if they are official communications for the executive branch, then that phone should not be reimbursed by donors for his congressional campaign, which is something we discovered. And the third point is, if this phone is being reimbursed by his congressional campaign, given that he’s no longer a congressman, they shouldn’t be used in a personal capacity. And so he’s absolutely trapped here.

One of the things that I’ve spoken to about with a former archivist for the United States is that the stuff he’s got on his personal devices needed to have been turned over to the National Archives on his way out the door. The fact that he didn’t do that could also potentially land him problems by being in violation of the Presidential Records Act.

And so, really what we’ve got here is Mark Meadows, for reasons that are yet to be determined, essentially making himself a martyr for the former president and just attracting all this trouble on himself, where, inevitably, what’s going to happen is, if the Justice Department comes after him, he’s facing jail time or huge fines. And this is going to be a problem for him going forward, because this is not escapable.

All of this hinges on the idea about whether or not a former president can claim executive privilege. And that’s something we can talk about, too, because the Trump case right now, that clearly is headed to the Supreme Court, is going to essentially determine the outcome for Mark Meadows, Steve Bannon, as you mentioned, and also Jeffrey Clark, that official at the Department of Justice, who’s since left, but, while he was there, tried to play a central role in essentially turning over the election in 2020.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jose, I wanted to follow up on that latter portion of your remarks there in terms of this issue of the executive privilege eventually — issue going to the Supreme Court. Isn’t the effort of Meadows and the Trump followers to drag this out, to run out the clock past the November elections, when hopefully they can regain control, from their perspective, of Congress and short-circuit this entire investigation?

JOSE PAGLIERY: Well, Juan, that’s certainly the position of the Department of Justice under the Biden administration. I mean, they’ve said in court papers that this is absolutely a delay tactic. I mean, the committee also is accusing this of being such. But while that does appear to be the case, there also seems to be something else at play here.

Reporting that I did last week reflects that Steve Bannon’s legal strategy appears not just to be a manner of delaying this, hoping that maybe if they stretch this out until late next year that we’ve got an election and then things get sort of fuzzy, but also that if there’s a case against Bannon, Bannon’s legal team seems to think that they can then use that as a way to reach into the Department of Justice, reach into the White House and try to seek documents that would purportedly show that this is a political prosecution. And so, this perfectly well fits Bannon’s strategy, right? We know him as this right-wing provocateur who is, frankly, really intelligent and smart at playing games with journalists, but also with messaging, with public messaging. And so, he seems to be trying to turn the tables here and say, “Well, forget the committee’s work for a second. What did the Biden administration do to me?” And in doing so, we can see how three different characters here — four, essentially, actually, if you consider Steve Bannon, Jeff Clark at the DOJ, Mark Meadows and then Trump himself — are trying to essentially not just block the committee’s work but turn it upside down.

All these cases, though — it has to be said, all of these cases and any effort to block the committee’s work claiming executive privilege, it all hinges on Trump’s legal challenge, which deserves a close look, because everyone I’ve spoken to, every legal scholar, everyone who’s really knowledgeable about the Constitution and is currently teaching at a law school, has told me that there is no way that a former president can claim executive privilege that overrides the current president deciding to release those records to Congress. That said, we are also dealing with a Supreme Court that has been packed by that very former president.

And so, it has yet to be determined what exactly is going to come out of this, but at the very least, like you said, Juan, there’s going to be delays. And the problem with delays are at least twofold. One, we can run into the problem where if this stretches on until late next year, then maybe if it goes beyond the election, then there won’t be a Democrat-led committee. Maybe it will be Republican-led. And we all know what’s going to happen there. It’s going to just fizzle and disappear. On the other hand, though, the delay also buys time for people to delete information, to coordinate responses, to essentially drag this out so that the evidence is not as fresh. And that could also be problematic, because in this case, time is absolutely of the essence.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And I wanted to ask you, in terms of how this is playing in the general public — I mean, we’ve had examples in the past of major scandals in Republican administrations — of course, most famously, Watergate during the Nixon era. But then we had Iran-Contra during the Reagan era. And while this could potentially be more like Iran-Contra, that it drags on for so long, with the people, the public, basically turning off, that even after the conclusions are reached in a congressional committee, that nothing major happens in terms of holding those responsible for what happened. I’m wondering your thoughts on that.

JOSE PAGLIERY: So, it’s a good question. And I’ve spoken with some people who have direct relations with the members of the committee, and they know this could happen. So, there is not — I wouldn’t say a concern, but they see this as a potential outcome. And so, what I’m hearing is that the committee absolutely plans, sometime early next year, to start having some kind of public hearings to garner attention, to lay out all the evidence all at once. The chairman of the committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, sort of hinted at this the other day when he said, “At some point we’re going to lay all the evidence out, but not just yet, not until we have it all put together.” Well, that’s essentially — the reason why they would do that is exactly what you’re saying here, which is that there would be a concern that the public will just get lost with hundreds of headlines. And if they have a few days or a few weeks where they have daily public hearings laying out all the evidence they’ve gathered, that could sort of shore that up.

I mean, look, if we think about what the committee has done so far, it’s a ton of work. They say that they’ve heard from almost 300 witnesses, received tens of thousands of documents — at least 9,000 pages from Meadows himself. And with that amount of information, we’ve got something that, frankly, could be compared to the FBI’s effort on the other end, prosecuting the actual people who tried to storm the Capitol.

I mean, there’s a multi-front sort of effort here that we’ve got to keep track of. One is the committee going after the people who staged this. The other is the FBI going after the people who actually showed up, sometimes armed. But then we’ve got, you know, efforts like what you mentioned on your show just now with the District of Columbia attorney general going after the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers in a civil lawsuit, making them literally pay for what they did, because unless you’ve got this multipronged approach, you’ve got a situation potentially where this could happen again in 2022 or 2024. There are a lot of people who are Trump loyalists, absolutely ticked off. They have guns, and they’re connected. And so, this multipronged approach could be an attempt to prevent this from happening again. The question is whether or not people are going to be paying attention when the January 6th committee actually shows the evidence they’ve got.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to that lawsuit in a minute. But during Monday’s hearing at the House committee investigating the insurrection, Republican co-chair Liz Cheney seemed to suggest the committee could refer former President Trump for criminal charges. This is what she said.

REP. LIZ CHENEY: Mr. Meadows’s testimony will bear on another key question before this committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s official proceedings to count electoral votes?

AMY GOODMAN: Jose Pagliery, the significance of what this Republican congressmember is saying?

JOSE PAGLIERY: Yeah. Well, I mean, it seems like she’s — she sounds like a prosecutor speaking to a jury, reading out the U.S. federal criminal code, because this would be obstruction of Congress’s work, which is a crime punishable by jail time. And so, it’s very clear, when she read that, that she is hinting at where this is going: ultimately going after the former president for his central role in trying to stage an insurrection — well, in successfully staging an insurrection, trying to stage a coup and staying in power.

And so, this is — we know where the committee is going here. They’re going after the people who put these rallies together, the people in the White House who knew what was going on and didn’t stop it or egged it on, and the president for, I mean, let’s not forget, literally telling his followers, his rallygoers in front of him, “Go to the Capitol.”

I mean, it can’t be stressed enough just how obvious this was going on in plain sight. And, look, some members of Congress yesterday, when they were debating whether or not to hold Meadows in contempt, were noting the fact that it seems like the weird thing about the last four or five years is that if it happens in plain sight, people sort of shrug. But it can’t be that way.

AMY GOODMAN: I also wanted to go to Congressmember Adam Schiff reading that text message sent January 3rd to Mark Meadows from an unidentified sender — but it’s a congressmember — about the possibility that Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who appeared open to pursuing Trump’s attempts to overturn the election results, would replace Jeffrey Rosen, then the acting attorney General. And this was the text Schiff read: “I heard Jeff Clark is getting put in on Monday. That’s amazing. It will make a lot of patriots happy and I’m personally so proud that you are at the tip of the spear and I can call you a friend.” He’s talking to Mark Meadows. And what about these anonymous texts, which are believed to be congressmembers, and will congressmembers get implicated in this, helping with the insurrection as their fellow congressmembers were being targeted and police were being physically attacked?

JOSE PAGLIERY: This is a really tricky question, because this doesn’t just border on, like, constitutional issues in the U.S. I mean, who’s going to go after a sitting congressmember, right? Are they going to be able to police themselves? I mean, we’ve shown that throughout the past few months, there have only really been two Republicans — Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney — who have actually decided to go along with investigating what happened on January 6th. What’s going to happen when the closest people to Mark Meadows, like Matt Gaetz or Jim Jordan, are revealed, you know, for their role they potentially played in those days? I don’t know that their fellow members are going to hold them accountable. That’s an open question.

But what we do see now that’s very interesting from the committee is that in reading these texts without saying who it is that sent them — because we don’t know who it is that sent them; we just know that, according to them, they’re members of the House, they’re not senators — they’re flexing a muscle here. They’re saying, “We have these communications, and this will keep going.” And it should come to no surprise that nearly every Republican voted against holding Mark Meadows in contempt. They want to hit the brakes on this.

But it’s worth noting, by the way, that Mark Meadows, in the run-up to all of this, was going back and forth with the committee about whether or not he would testify and under what conditions. And one of the things that seems to have absolutely become a wall to those discussions is when the committee sought his private text message and call logs from Verizon. It was then that Mark Meadows just stopped talking to the committee and then sued Nancy Pelosi and the committee members to stop them from getting any more records from Verizon, because it’s clear that that’s where the goods are. What’s curious is, as I mentioned earlier, you know, he’s trapped here, because if the relevant material is in a personal account, then he cannot claim that there is executive privilege over this without essentially saying that he should have turned it over anyway. And that’s a big problem for him.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Jose, I wanted to ask you: Is there any indication that Mark Meadows was not alone in using private accounts, private phone or email accounts, to conduct government business? Because, after all, as you note, this was one of the major criticisms of Hillary Clinton in the famous email — in the battle over the emails. Is there any indication that there were many other members of the Trump administration doing the same thing?

JOSE PAGLIERY: So, there’s been reporting from others that clearly show that members of the Trump administration didn’t want to let go of their personal devices. I mean, if you remember, at the start of the Trump administration, there was a big issue when his family members and his close advisers were reluctant to use phones that had been secured by the intelligence community here in the country. And so, you know, some of that was deep state concerns, right? But, yeah, when they didn’t want to use government phones and they used personal phones, yes, we had heard about use of Signal and other encrypted apps to do this. And there’s been reporting from others that there may have been a burner phone involved with Meadows in his communication with the rally organizers. And so, there is absolutely that question.

I mean, look, going back, let’s remember that if you go back six or seven years, yes, there was a national debate about whether or not a politician should use a personal device for official work and keep official documents on a personal server. I think there was a resounding response to that, that says, “No, you can’t do that. You shouldn’t do that. You should be held accountable.” The question is: Are Republicans going to hold their own former colleague accountable here, and are they going to hold themselves accountable? Because we clearly see from what the committee has shown so far that these private texts were going back and forth between him and other members. And so there is absolutely an open question as to whether or not you’ve got all these personal devices going around, on official business, that is official business plotting a coup. I mean, let’s not forget what this is really about. This is official business about an insurrection. And that’s going to blow up in their face.

AMY GOODMAN: Jose, maybe this is connected, but I want to end on your pinned tweet. You’re the political investigations reporter at The Daily Beast. Your pinned tweet is from 2019. You wrote, “Sitting in a nearly empty immigration court on Tuesday, the judge called the next case. In walks a 4-year-old Honduran girl, her hair in a dozen braids each with a black bow. She refused to sit in the chair. She preferred to sit next to me in the back. The translator leaned over, telling her about upcoming court dates & the importance of attending — or being subject to a deportation order in absentia. Of course this little darling had no idea what was going on. She blew raspberries my way & giggled the whole time. The first time she responded to the judge was when she asked her age. The girl raised her right hand and four little fingers, then looked at me and smiled. 'Wow,' I whispered to her. 'Tienes cuatro años?' She nodded, and all the bows swung in the air. 'Si!' When it was all over, she didn’t want to get up & leave. She seemed so content just sitting by my side and swinging her legs from the pew. I complimented the rainbow unicorn on her jacket. It’s cold outside & you should really put it on, it’s such a beautiful jacket, I said. The child care center worker held her hand, and they walked out. I have no idea where her mom is. She has no idea where her mom is. I couldn’t stop thinking about little Merolin for the rest of the day.”

We just have 30 seconds. It’s such a heartbreaking story. But if you can connect what happened then, under President Trump in 2019, to his insurrection of January 6th and what he’s doing today?

JOSE PAGLIERY: Well, look, the Trump era was one that really took everything that Americans traditionally considered American values — whether or not they had any right to claim or assert ownership of those values and support them, he took everything that people considered American values, and flipped them upside down. The big question I have had as a reporter covering this has always been: Why have so many people not — you know, not caught that and said, “No, this is wrong. We’re not going to go along with this”?

I mean, when I wrote that, I was at Univision here locally in New York, and I was covering the child separations. I mean, if you take that to the insurrection, what we’ve got is everything that Americans have considered sacred was chucked out the window. The question still is: Are we going to hold people accountable for that? I don’t know.

AMY GOODMAN: Jose Pagliery, I want to thank you for being with us, political investigations reporter at The Daily Beast.

Next up, the U.S. says it’s preparing alternatives in case it’s unable to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that President Trump withdrew the U.S. from. We will also look at the election in Chile. Stay with us.

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