Meadows may be quietly cooperating with DOJ — experts say that could mean it's "game over" for Trump

"I can think of no witness who would be more important," says former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published May 25, 2023 2:56PM (EDT)

Former White House Chief of Staff during the Trump administration Mark Meadows (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
Former White House Chief of Staff during the Trump administration Mark Meadows (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Legal experts warn that former President Donald Trump could find himself facing substantial legal trouble if former chief of staff Mark Meadows cooperates with special counsel Jack Smith's criminal investigation into January 6.

The former chief of staff, who was with Trump on January 6 and remained involved in several discussions surrounding the former president's efforts to block the certification of his loss, could provide key insights into Trump's mindset leading up to and during the attack on the Capitol.

"​​Meadows would be an incredibly important witness for the government," former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade, a University of Michigan law professor, told Salon. "Because of his close proximity to the president during the events of January 6 and the meetings, leading up to it, he would have insights about Trump's knowledge and intent regarding efforts to overturn the outcome of the election. I can think of no witness who would be more important."

A source close to Trump's legal team told CNN that there has been no communication between Trump's lawyers and Meadows or his team, fueling speculation about whether he is cooperating with the special counsel's probe or if he himself is a subject of interest in the investigation.

Whether Meadows has answered questions under oath following the subpoena issued in February remains unclear, but if does choose to cooperate "it's game over," tweeted New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman.

Temidayo Aganga-Williams, partner at Selendy Gay Elsberg and former senior investigative counsel for the House Jan. 6 committee, agreed that Meadows' cooperation with the special counsel's investigation would be a "game changer" as it would provide "significant insight" into the former president's inner circle in the months leading up to the attack.

"The January 6th committee's investigation confirmed that Meadows was intimately involved with President Trump's unprecedented efforts to overturn the results of the election," Aganga-Williams said. "After the election, Meadows served as a point person for various schemes, including the fake electors plan."

Meadows previously cited executive privilege to fight a subpoena from a grand jury in Georgia's Fulton County investigating the post-election efforts. A judge ultimately ordered Meadows to testify.

"The government could always subpoena Meadows, and seems likely to be able to overcome any assertions of executive privilege, but questioning Meadows under those circumstances would be like pulling teeth, likely to elicit simple,  yes or no answers," McQuade said. "If, on the other hand, Meadows is cooperating and receiving some benefit in exchange for his truthful testimony, then he is likely to be far more forthcoming, and to even volunteer new information that could be helpful to the prosecution."

Late last year, Meadows complied with a previous DOJ subpoena for text messages to the January 6 committee that were sent and received during the attack on the Capitol. The messages revealed how Meadows played a key role in helping aid Trump's efforts to overturn the 2020 election results. 

Several figures, including Trump's family members and Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Sean Hannity, even urged Meadows to get Trump to convince his supporters to leave the Capitol, but the former president failed to take any action for more than three hours.

While Meadows complied with the committee's subpoena at first, he stopped cooperating soon after turning over the text messages. 

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Now, as he maneuvers through the potential legal repercussions stemming from his involvement in Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election, Meadows has successfully maintained political relevance through his involvement in advising right-wing lawmakers on negotiations over the nation's debt ceiling and the speaker's battle, according to CNN. 

"Meadows' truthful cooperation would be a godsend to Smith's investigation of the January 6th conspiracy," former federal prosecutor Kevin O'Brien told Salon. "As Trump's chief of staff, Meadows shadowed Trump throughout the period of the conspiracy, and would have been privy to the ex-president's plans and interactions as he summoned an armed mob to the Capitol, fired them up with his speech at the Ellipse, and then watched as they stormed the Capitol building and looted its contents."

O'Brien pointed to senior aide Cassidy Hutchinson's testimony, who said that Trump and Meadows were in frequent communication on sensitive subjects during the day of the assault on the Capitol – often behind closed doors. Meadows even told her that Trump was not prepared to tell the rioters to go home.

"But it must be kept in mind that Meadows, who was a co-founder with Jim Jordan of the Freedom Caucus, is a true believer with consistently radical and even unhinged views," O'Brien said. "His cooperation would be hard to come by and, even if acquired, would be inherently suspect, unless Meadows understands that he otherwise faces serious criminal charges.  This is the challenge for Smith's office, but it's one well worth taking on."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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Capitol Riot Donald Trump Furthering Jack Smith January 6 Mark Meadows Politics