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Mark Meadows sues Jan. 6 committee after panel vows contempt proceedings

Former President Donald Trump's onetime chief of staff is refusing to cooperate with the committee, reversing an earlier decision to engage.
Mark Meadows speaks outside of the White House on Oct. 21, 2020.
Mark Meadows speaks outside the White House on Oct. 21, 2020.Chris Kleponis / Bloomberg via Getty Images file

WASHINGTON — Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows sued the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol just hours after the panel said it plans to move forward with contempt proceedings against him.

In the lawsuit, which names members of the Jan. 6 committee and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as defendants, Meadows asked the court to invalidate two “overly broad” and “unduly burdensome” subpoenas that he said the panel issued without legal authority.

“Congress has no freestanding power to issue subpoenas. Instead, its investigative powers are ancillary to its legislative authority,” the lawsuit says. “Because of this tie between the investigative and legislative powers, Congress may only issue subpoenas that serve a valid legislative purpose.”

Meadows said that he initially believed the committee would “act in good faith” and have him voluntarily testify about issues “outside the scope of executive privilege” but that Verizon Wireless “blindsided” him with a letter this month saying it was complying with a subpoena from the panel to hand over his personal phone records.

Verizon indicated that it would comply with the subpoena, which requested phone records from October 2020 to Jan. 31, unless it received “a court document challenging the subpoena by December 15, 2021,” according to the lawsuit.

Verizon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Meadows filed the lawsuit after the committee said it would pursue contempt proceedings as a result of Meadows' decision to no longer cooperate with its requests.

The chair of the committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., responded to the lawsuit in a joint statement with Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., characterizing it as a delay tactic.

“Mr. Meadows’s flawed lawsuit won’t succeed at slowing down the Select Committee’s investigation or stopping us from getting the information we’re seeking," the two lawmakers said. "The Select Committee will meet next week to advance a report recommending that the House cite Mr. Meadows for contempt of Congress and refer him to the Department of Justice for prosecution.”

A day earlier, Thompson wrote in a letter to Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger III, that the committee “is left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.”

Meadows represented North Carolina in the House from 2013 until March 2020. He had been scheduled for deposition Wednesday but did not show up.

Thompson said in Tuesday's letter that there is “no legitimate basis” for Meadows’ refusal to cooperate and answer questions about the documents he had already provided to lawmakers. He said those records include “a text message exchange with a member of Congress apparently about appointing alternate electors in certain states as part of a plan that the member acknowledged would be ‘highly controversial’ and to which Mr. Meadows apparently said, ‘I love it.’”

"They also feature a text exchange in January 2021 between Meadows and an organizer of the Jan. 6 ‘Stop the Steal’ rally on the White House Ellipse as well as text messages about the need for former President Donald Trump to issue a public statement that could have stopped the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol," Thompson wrote.

Thompson said the committee has repeatedly tried to identify what topics Meadows believes are protected by executive privilege but that neither Terwilliger nor Meadows has “meaningfully provided that information.” He said he had given Meadows opportunities to comply and questioned how he could produce documents but then decide not to appear for a deposition to answer questions about them.

Thompson also questioned Meadows’ releasing a book in which he wrote about Jan. 6 but “denying a congressional committee the opportunity to ask him about the attack on our Capitol.” That “marks an historic and aggressive defiance of Congress,” Thompson wrote.

Meadows said earlier Tuesday that he would no longer cooperate with the committee, which prompted the panel to threaten contempt proceedings.

The committee voted last week to advance a measure to refer Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress while giving him another chance to testify.

Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon faces two counts of contempt of Congress after the House recommended charges over his refusal to cooperate with the Jan. 6 committee. A judge set a July trial date.