It has been a very bad week for former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows —maybe even the worst week of his life. And it's not over yet.
Late on Tuesday night, the House of Representatives voted to hold Meadows, a former GOP congressman from North Carolina, in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the bipartisan Jan. 6th Committee. The vote fell mostly along party lines, with only Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, the only two Republicans serving on the committee, being the only two Republicans who voted with every Democrat to hold.
Meadows contempt citation will now be referred to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to prosecute. Most of the TV lawyers seem to think this will be a hard call since Meadows really was in the White House during the period in question, unlike podcaster Steve Bannon, who was referred a few weeks ago on the same charge. On the other hand, before Meadows decided to defy the subpoena, he had turned over around 6,000 documents including many text messages, which the committee claims it wants to ask him about. So Meadows is claiming that they can look at his documents but his knowledge of them is privileged information? That doesn't make any sense.
The documents he turned over which the committee has released in the last few days have been dramatic and compelling. Among them was the PowerPoint presentation that had been circulated in the White House and to Republicans in Congress and the right-wing media prior to the insurrection. It's a shocking document that outlined several possible strategies to illegally overturn the 2020 election. Subsequent reporting revealed many GOP officials knew that Trump and his henchmen had cooked up plans to stage a coup and didn't say anything about it.
Then on Monday, as the committee was preparing to vote, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-WY., read off some of Meadows' text messages showing that Fox News personalities such as Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity had been frantically texting Meadows during the insurrection asking him to get Trump to call off his troops. Even Donald Trump Jr. exhorted Meadows to tell his daddy that he needed to "lead now" and do an Oval Office address. There were dozens of such texts from people all over Washington, begging the president to tell his followers to stop the violence.
We know that Trump sat on his hands for hours sending out lame tweets about respecting the police until he finally released a video in which he commiserated with the violent thugs and told them that they were very special and he loved them.
We've learned that there were texts to Meadows after the fact from unnamed congressional lawmakers telling him they had tried their best but "nothing worked." On Tuesday night before the floor vote, members of the committee read more, some of which revealed that members of Congress were offering advice on how to carry out the coup even before January 6th:
The Jan. 6th Committee is planning to start holding public hearings shortly after the new year and the word is that they will release the names of those GOP officials who helped with the coup planning.
One can only imagine what's happening down at Mar-a-Lago now that Trump has seen that his own son Don Jr. was calling his (formerly) trusted majordomo Mark Meadows on that day, telling him his father had to "lead." After the recent debacle of Meadows' book, in which he revealed the former president's pitiful, weakened state as he was lying to the country about having COVID, Trump now has to grapple with the fact that Meadows inexplicably turned over all these documents to the committee and is only now exerting executive privilege after the cat is out of the bag.
So Trump may be having a worse week than Meadows.
Not only is he dealing with the fallout of Meadows' document dump, a judge just ruled on Tuesday that he's going to have to give up his tax returns after all. That the ruling came from a judge who Trump appointed, must really chap his hide. It's been stayed pending appeal, but the gyrations the higher courts would have to go through may not be worth the trouble. If he runs again in 2024, there's a good chance the country will at least be able to see what he's been hiding.
He's also been called to appear for a deposition by the New York Attorney General's office in regards to the civil fraud investigation into his real estate business. Since the Manhattan District Attorney is running a parallel criminal investigation, this puts Trump at risk if he is forced to take the Fifth Amendment in the civil case to avoid incriminating himself criminally. In civil cases, you are allowed to infer guilt from a Fifth Amendment plea.
The bad news quickly piled up for Trump this week when the New York Times reported late Tuesday that the prosecutors in the criminal investigation have called his accountant and his longtime banker before the grand jury to determine whether Trump committed fraud when he applied for loans. It appears that these two cases may be coming to a head.
But perhaps even more threatening, for the first time we are seeing the contours of what the January 6th Committee may be leading up to: a criminal referral of Donald Trump for obstruction. Liz Cheney spelled it out on Monday during the Committee hearing to hold Meadows in contempt of congress:
Hours passed without necessary action by the President. These privileged texts are further evidence of President Trump's supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes. And Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another key question before this Committee: Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceedings to count electoral votes?
Journalist Marcy Wheeler explains that this seems to be following the same legal framework the DOJ is using to prosecute the most serious January 6th rioters. She writes, "Liz Cheney was stating that Trump's actions on January 6 may demonstrate that he, along with hundreds of people he incited, had deliberately attempted to prevent the vote count."
The language Cheney used tracks closely with those other cases, which is a clue that this is how they may be seeing this case going forward. The courts have so far been amenable to this interpretation of the law 18 USC 1512(c)(2) which makes it illegal to obstruct an official proceeding. Whether that holds up through the inevitable appeals process is yet to be determined, but when you look at the evidence it's clear that Donald Trump spent weeks planning to do just that and when his followers resorted to violence to accomplish it, he sat on his hands for hours and watched them do it.
I am not particularly optimistic that any of these cases will come to fruition. But Trump and his henchmen are feeling the heat right now for what his long-time fixer Michael Cohen always calls "his dirty deeds" and maybe that's the best we can hope for.