WASHINGTON — The House voted Tuesday night to refer former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows to the Justice Department for a potential criminal charge over his refusal to answer questions about the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Lawmakers passed the measure largely along party lines in a 222-208 vote. Two Republicans voted with Democrats: Reps. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, and Adam Kinzinger, of Illinois.
Meadows, a former House member from North Carolina, initially provided numerous documents to the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot before deciding against further engagement, claiming executive privilege.
The investigative panel voted unanimously Monday night to advance the contempt of Congress measure, saying Meadows should face a criminal charge for defying the panel's subpoena to testify.
The Jan. 6 committee's chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Meadows' actions left the panel with "no choice."
"This isn't about any sort of privilege or immunity. This is about Mr. Meadows refusing to comply with the subpoena to discuss the records he himself turned over,” Thompson said in floor debate Tuesday ahead of the House vote.
Cheney, the panel's vice chair, on Tuesday said it was “very sad to see” her Republican colleagues defending Meadows.
“They are defending the indefensible,” she said.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, speaking on the floor before the vote, called Meadows "a good man" and accused Democrats of “destroying executive privilege” by seeking to force "the closest of close" presidential advisers to testify.
“It’s disgusting,” said Jordan, who is not a member of the Jan. 6 committee.
One of the documents the panel had planned to ask Meadows about was an email he allegedly sent on Jan. 5 saying National Guard troops would be on hand to "protect pro Trump people" the next day.
Meadows twice refused to attend scheduled depositions. The second was Dec. 8, a day after his book recounting his time as former President Donald Trump's chief of staff was released. In it, Meadows recounts conversations with Trump and downplays the violence on Jan. 6, which disrupted the counting of the electoral vote and led to over 700 arrests, as the work of "a handful of fanatics."
"That he would sell his telling of the facts of that day while denying a congressional committee the opportunity to ask him about the attack on our Capitol marks an historic and aggressive defiance of Congress," Thompson wrote in a letter to Meadows' attorney.
Meadows' lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III, sent a letter Monday asking the Jan. 6 committeenot to proceed with the contempt vote, saying it would be "contrary to law" because Meadows is making "a good-faith invocation of executive privilege and testimonial immunity."
The letter did not tackle why executive privilege should apply to a former official when the current president is not invoking it — a question central to the panel's legal fight over Trump's records.
In a statement Tuesday, Terwilliger said his client has never "stopped cooperating" with the committee.
“Rather, he has maintained consistently that as a former Chief of Staff he cannot be compelled to appear for questioning and that he as a witness is not licensed to waive Executive Privilege claimed by the former president. At the same time, he has fully cooperated as to documents in his possession that are not privileged and has sought various means to provide other information while continuing to honor the former president’s privilege claims," Terwilliger said.
The committee on Monday revealed previously undisclosed text messages to Meadows around the time of the attack that he provided to the panel. The texts were from Fox News hosts, Donald Trump Jr. and lawmakers, who were not named by the committee.
Some of the texts urged Meadows to get Trump to call off the rioters at the Capitol, and at least one from an unnamed lawmaker said, "Pence, as President of the Senate, should call out all electoral votes that he believes are unconstitutional as no electoral votes at all."
A contempt referral is not the first to stem from the Jan. 6 investigation.
The House previously voted to refer former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for contempt charges after he defied the committee's subpoenas.
The Justice Department acted on the recommendation, which it does not always do. Bannon has been charged with two counts of contempt and could face up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine if he is convicted. He has pleaded not guilty and is scheduled to stand trial in July.