Members of the House select committee investigating January 6 are losing patience with the pace of talks with former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and some are considering whether more aggressive steps are needed to force his compliance in the sweeping probe, multiple sources tell CNN.
Meadows was first subpoenaed more than a month ago, and since then the committee has indicated he’s been “engaging” in negotiations over the terms of his turning over documents and appearing for a deposition.
But weeks after the committee granted Meadows a “short” but indefinite postponement of the initial subpoena deadline, members are growing increasingly frustrated and contemplating when and how to ramp up the pressure.
As one of former President Donald Trump’s closest advisers, Meadows has unique insight into what Trump knew in the lead-up to January 6 and in its direct aftermath. And the committee is pressing to learn more about how Meadows aided an effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, noting in his subpoena that he had communicated with “the highest officials at the Department of Justice requesting investigations into election fraud matters in several states.”
Among the options being considered is officially setting a new deadline for Meadows to comply with the committee’s subpoena or risk being held in criminal contempt, the path it pursued with Trump ally Stephen Bannon. After making clear from the outset that he had no intention of cooperating with the panel, Bannon now faces possible prosecution for defying his subpoena.
“Our patience isn’t unlimited, and engagement needs to become cooperation very soon,” a select committee source told CNN, calling Meadows a “key witness” in the investigation. “As we’ve already made clear, anyone who tries to stonewall our effort will face the consequences.”
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the committee and is charged with weighing considerations from all members, told CNN on Wednesday the panel is not yet at the point when it needs to take the matter of Meadows’ compliance to court.
But Thompson added: “If and when the staff says to us it’s not going anywhere, there won’t be any hesitation on the part of the committee to make the referrals.”
Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger, and his former chief of staff Ben Williamson both declined to comment.
The committee’s road ahead with Meadows is inherently more complicated than it was with Bannon because as Trump’s chief of staff Meadows could have legitimate executive privilege protections.
So far, the Biden administration has showed a considerable amount of support for the House investigation — declining to assert privilege over Bannon and multiple batches of documents, leaving many committee members encouraged that the White House will not offer blanket protection for Meadows.
But executive privilege is not the only factor at play here.
Members of the panel are weighing how much time to give Meadows before his non-compliance undermines their investigation.
One source with intimate knowledge of the negotiations told CNN it’s becoming “increasingly clear” that Meadows has “no real intention” of providing documents or testimony to the committee.
Several members of the committee have said in recent days that pursuing criminal contempt charges is on the table for any witness — including Meadows — who defies a subpoena.
“I do know that if we reach the conclusion that they’re not operating in good faith, and that if they’re not going to show up, then we will hold them in criminal contempt as we did with Mr. Bannon,” Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, told reporters last week when asked about Meadows.
Should the committee institute a new subpoena deadline for Meadows, it could set up a standoff that could escalate into a legal fight.
In contrast to Meadows, Bannon never engaged with the committee. He didn’t show up on the day his subpoena required him to, and his attorney sent a letter to the committee saying he wouldn’t cooperate until the committee reached an agreement with Trump over what was privileged information — or a court ruled on the matter.
Some committee members expect Meadows will ultimately refuse to comply, too, and both sides have signaled they are preparing to litigate, according to two sources familiar with the situation.
Bannon, now a podcast host, had been fired from his White House role years before the January 6 insurrection but continued to support Trump and worked with “Stop the Steal” activists agitating to overturn the 2020 election results.
In letters to the National Archives, White House Counsel Dana Remus has repeatedly said the White House believes the insurrection and the events surrounding it were “unique and extraordinary” and that Biden has determined that an “assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States.”
Biden’s legal advisers have been very clear that they’re approaching the privilege questions prompted by the January 6 investigations on a case-by-case basis.
If Biden’s White House allows full access to testimony and documents from Meadows, that could set a precedent and invite a GOP-led probe into his administration if Republicans take control of one or both chambers of Congress next year.
And before then, any move to shield parts of Meadows’ account from Congress could invite blowback from the left and from Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.
The White House counsel’s office has already begun discussing with the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel how executive privilege could apply to Meadows, a source familiar with the matter told CNN.
Merely consulting with OLC does not signify that the White House will grant Meadows any privilege protections. The White House has previously consulted with OLC in this investigation and still opted not to assert privilege.
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