Mark Meadows surfaces at last — and it sure looks like he's flipped on Trump

Plot thickens: Meadows was not mentioned in the federal case — and has every chance of skating on Georgia charges

By Heather Digby Parton


Published August 16, 2023 9:33AM (EDT)

White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside the White House on October 30, 2020 in Washington, DC.  (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)
White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows listens as President Donald Trump speaks to the press outside the White House on October 30, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Sarah Silbiger/Getty Images)

One of the most compelling images that came out of the Jan. 6 House committee hearings was of former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows slumped on his couch on the afternoon in question, disconsolately scrolling through his phone while Donald Trump's angry mob stormed the Capitol. As the New York Times reported:

[White House aide Cassidy] Hutchinson said around 2 p.m. or 2:05 p.m. that day, she went to Meadows' office because she saw rioters were getting closer to breaching the Capitol. Meadows was on his couch, scrolling through his phone, as he had been that morning. "I said, 'Hey, are you watching the TV, chief? … The rioters are getting really close. Have you talked to the president?' He said, 'No, he wants to be alone right now,'" she recalled."I remember Pat saying to [Meadows], something to the effect of, 'The rioters have gotten to the Capitol, Mark, we need to go down and see the president now.' And Mark looked up at him and said, 'He doesn't want to do anything, Pat,'" Hutchinson said.

This was the man who had been constantly by Trump's side in the previous tumultuous weeks as the president tried every possible means to overturn the results of the 2020 election. He knew Trump didn't want to stop the violence at the Capitol. He knew Trump actually relished it. And he knew there was nothing to be done about it. 

Meadows had originally agreed to cooperate with the select committee himself and had turned over a large volume of communications pertaining to the post-election attempts to reverse the results. But after Meadows' book "The Chief's Chief" was published, in which he incurred Trump's wrath by his unflattering portrayal of the president's behavior after he contracted COVID, Meadows withdrew his cooperation and was eventually referred to the Department of Justice for contempt of Congress.

Unlike podcaster and agitator Steve Bannon and former trade adviser Peter Navarro, both of whom also refused to comply with a congressional subpoena, Meadows was not prosecuted by the DOJ. Neither was former White House communications official Dan Scavino. No explanation was given at the time, but many observers assumed that since Meadows was no longer in Trump's orbit, he was cooperating with federal investigators.

Meadows has not publicly addressed the events of Jan. 6 or the post-election schemes since he left the White House. CNN reported that he is quietly employed in a high-level job as "the senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute, a pro-Trump think tank that pays him more than $500,000 and has seen its revenues soar to $45 million since Meadows joined in 2021, according to the group's tax filings." Nice work if you can get it. Meadows also serves as an informal adviser to the hard-right House Freedom Caucus, reportedly helping to guide the group's rebellion against Kevin McCarthy's speakership bid and its strategy during the debt ceiling talks. But according to his "best friend," House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan, with whom Meadows reportedly speaks at least once a week, they "make a point not to talk about" legal matters.

All this has Trump feeling very nervous that Meadows has become a "rat." According to Rolling Stone, Meadows' lawyers cut off contact with the Trump team months ago and the latter have had no idea what contact Meadows has had with either special counsel Jack Smith or Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis. Meadows has reportedly testified before the federal grand jury in Washington, but took the Fifth when called before the special grand jury in Georgia. When the federal indictment against Trump finally came down in the Jan. 6 case, Meadows was not mentioned among the "unindicted co-conspirators," despite ample public evidence that he had been heavily involved in the plots for which Trump was indicted. That seemed like a clear indication that he'd become a key witness.

Meadows' lawyers reportedly broke off contact with Trump's team months ago. The latter have no idea what the former chief of staff has told Jack Smith or Fani Willis.

This week we received another important clue about what exactly Meadows has been up to. He was among the long list of Trump associates indicted in Fulton County on Monday night in Willis' sweeping conspiracy case. Unlike Trump and other key figures like Rudy Giuliani and John Eastman, Meadows was only indicted on two counts: violation of Georgia's racketeering act and "solicitation of violation of public oath by a public officer."

The first of those is the overall conspiracy charge laid out in the indictment, which cites Meadows' dissemination of false theories of election fraud and his attempts to pressure DOJ officials as well as various state officials in Georgia and elsewhere. The second relates to the fact that Meadows "actively participated in and spoke" in Trump's infamous phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, the one when the then-president suggested "finding" enough votes to give him the win in that state. It's easy to see why Meadows took the Fifth on that one.

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On Tuesday, Meadows became the first defendant in the Georgia case (but surely not the last) to announce that he would request moving his case to federal court because his alleged criminal activity "all occurred during his tenure and as part of his service as Chief of Staff." In his statement, Meadows explained that "arranging Oval Office meetings, contacting state officials on the President's behalf, visiting a state government building, and setting up a phone call for the President" were all part of his duties and that you would expect the president's chief of staff "to do these sorts of things." It sounds like Meadows' defense will be, as they say, that he was just following orders.

That strategy is not unprecedented and many legal observers suggest Meadows has a good chance of getting his case booted to the federal level. Willis would still be the prosecutor, but would try the case before a federal judge and a jury pool drawn from the entire state, both of them potentially more sympathetic to Meadows. There would be no cameras in a federal courtroom, which is unfortunate since a televised trial might offer one last chance to penetrate the minds of those few remaining Republican voters who aren't completely far gone.

None of this, however, explains Meadows' role in Jack Smith's federal case in D.C., where the former chief of staff has apparently been treated with kid gloves throughout the process. No doubt Trump's team is anxious to look through all the discovery material to see what they can find out.

I always thought Meadows was a bit thick, not to mention certainly unqualified for the important job that he did remarkably poorly. Apparently, he's smart enough to hire a highly competent lawyer and take that person's advice, which makes him a very stable genius compared to his former boss. He may be the one major Jan. 6 conspirator who gets to walk away from this mess relatively unscathed.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

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Commentary Donald Trump Fani Willis Georgia Indictment Jack Smith Mark Meadows