Legal experts: Mark Meadows may have outplayed Trump — and Jan. 6 indictment may be “imminent”

Meadows' testimony before special counsel's grand jury seems to have been "kept secret from Trump team"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published June 7, 2023 9:02AM (EDT)

Former President Donald Trump speaks as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (R) on the South Lawn of the White House July 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump speaks as White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (R) on the South Lawn of the White House July 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has testified before a federal grand jury hearing evidence in the special counsel's investigations into former President Donald Trump, according to The New York Times.

Meadows factors into both special counsel Jack Smith's probes: the investigation into Trump's efforts to overturn his election loss that culminated in the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot and the probe into his handling of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. It's unclear whether Meadows testified or if he was asked about one or both cases, according to the report.

The news comes after Trump's inner circle spent months "puzzled by and wary about the low profile" Meadows has kept in the investigations amid reports of numerous witnesses who have been interviewed by prosecutors. "Meadows has kept largely out of sight, and some of Mr. Trump's advisers believe he could be a significant witness in the inquiries," The Times reported.

Trump himself has asked aides about what Meadows is doing, according to the report.

"Without commenting on whether or not Mr. Meadows has testified before the grand jury or in any other proceeding, Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so," Meadows attorney George Terwilliger told the outlet.

Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman predicted that Meadows' testimony could "bury" Trump.

"The lawyers for Trump & co. l have been largely ham handed and ineffective.  Meadows's lawyer, by contrast, former DAG George Terwilliger, has kept him totally out of the limelight and steered him skillfully," Litman tweeted.

It's unclear under what circumstances Meadows testified and whether he was given immunity or quietly pleaded guilty.

New York University Law Prof. Ryan Goodman noted "Meadows' (smart) attorney George Terwilliger's statement" that Meadows told the truth where he had a "legal obligation to do so."

"That's consistent, to say the least, with DOJ giving immunity to overcome Fifth Amendment," he wrote.

Goodman noted that Meadows' actions "seem to be kept secret from Trump team."

"Put these 2 things together and what do you have?" he wrote. "A cooperator."

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Meadows' proximity to Trump in the waning days of his presidency could make him a valuable source of information in both special counsel probes.

"Why the fuss about Meadows? He was one of just a few aides at Trump's side as the Jan. 6 attack unfolded. He was in on Trump's phone call to Brad Raffensperger where he begged Ga's Secy of State to 'find' him enough votes for the won. His texts were a treasure trove for the" Jan. 6 committee, wrote former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance.

Former FBI agent Pete Strzok added that Meadows was also involved in Trump's last-minute effort to declassify information about the FBI investigation into his 2016 campaign's ties to Russia.

"Meadows can provide compelling evidence that Trump knew the proper way to declassify - and that, in his final hours, Trump spent so much urgent effort to do so before he lost his declassification authority," Strzok wrote.

The report comes as the Trump team expects Smith to indict the former president in the Mar-a-Lago case. But Goodman told CNN on Tuesday that Meadows' testimony "really rachets up the likelihood that there will be charges against Donald Trump for January 6th."

The key question is "why would they give Meadows immunity," Goodman said.

"They would give him immunity because he could… give them access to the star suspect," he added. "That's the reason that you would give somebody immunity who otherwise has a lot of criminal jeopardy on his own. That's the deal. And so that's why it's enormously significant if he's cooperating."

Former U.S. Attorney Barb McQuade agreed that it "could be very challenging for Donald Trump to get around testimony by Mark Meadows."

McQuade added that Meadows' testimony was "kind of a last piece that seemed necessary for Jack Smith to hear."

"We've been talking a lot about the imminence of the Mar-a-Lago indictment," she said. "I'm now thinking the January 6th indictment is just as imminent."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Donald Trump Jack Smith January 6 Mar-a-lago Mark Meadows Politics