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Mark Meadows' 'defiance' could lead to contempt referral, Jan. 6 panel says

FILE - White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks on a phone on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on Oct. 30, 2020.
Patrick Semansky
FILE - White House chief of staff Mark Meadows speaks on a phone on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, on Oct. 30, 2020.

Updated November 12, 2021 at 5:48 PM ET

On the heels of an indictment of former Trump strategist Steve Bannon, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol said it is eyeing a similar contempt of Congress referral for Mark Meadows.

The former White House chief of staff missed a Friday deadline set by panel members to answer their questions.

Meadows' attorney, George Terwilliger, has maintained that it is up to the courts to ultimately resolve the dispute over executive privilege between his client and the panel.

But Committee Chair Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., noted there was nothing "extraordinary" about a committee seeking cooperation from a former senior administration official when it's in the public interest.

"Mr. Meadows's actions today — choosing to defy the law — will force the Select Committee to consider pursuing contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena," Thompson and Cheney said in a joint statement. "If his defiance persists and that process moves ahead, the record will reveal the wide range of matters the Select Committee wished to discuss with Mr. Meadows until his decision to hide behind the former President's spurious claims of privilege."

The panel had already issued a warning to Meadows — a former member of Congress — earlier on Thursday, saying his refusal to comply with the congressional subpoena would force the committee to consider invoking the contempt referral or pursue other options.

At issue is former President Donald Trump's claim of executive privilege. He maintains it still applies and has signaled to Meadows and other former advisers and allies that executive privilege could also shield them from cooperating with the investigation. However, the legal shield largely rests with the current president. It's the subject of new litigation between Trump and the committee now before an appellate court.

Terwilliger said since there remains a "sharp legal dispute" over whether Meadows can be compelled to testify and answer questions that involve privileged communications, they will wait until the courts decide this issue.

"Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts. It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues," he said.

So far, the committee has interviewed or held depositions with more than 150 cooperative witnesses, who the panel has not identified publicly. Aside from those, 35 subpoenas have been issued, with at least one witness, former Justice Department officialJeffrey Clark, appearing but to assert that privilege prevented him from answering questions. And another who defied his subpoena outright, Bannon, was charged with criminal contempt of Congress on Friday.

"It's unfortunate that Mr. Meadows has chosen to join a very small group of witnesses who believe they are above the law and are defying a Select Committee subpoena outright," said Thompson and Cheney, adding that Meadows, Bannon and others who go down this path will not prevail.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.