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Jan. 6 panel report shows Mark Meadows' role in trying to overturn election


Former Trump White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows could soon face criminal charges. That's because he's defying the Democratic-led House panel investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. The committee voted tonight to recommend a contempt of Congress charge against Meadows. Ahead of that, they released a report that the lawmakers say show he played a key role in trying to overturn President Biden's 2020 election victory over former President Trump. Joining us to discuss this is NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales.

Welcome back, Claudia.


CORNISH: This comes after Meadows was one of the first witnesses actually - right? - who was subpoenaed, and he was also starting to cooperate. So how did things kind of turn south?

GRISALES: Yes. This began in late September. And Meadows did start to cooperate initially last month, turning over information from his personal account - so about 6,600 personal emails and 2,000 text messages. But then he reversed course the day before his deposition was set for last week. And he also sued the committee, saying executive privilege prevents him from cooperating further. And yet this was all happening as his book about his time in the White House was released, ramping up the committee's arguments that he cannot claim executive privilege.

CORNISH: What's known about these emails and text messages that were turned over to the committee?

GRISALES: So before this criminal contempt referral vote, the committee prepared a 51-page report, plus more than a dozen exhibits detailing their case against Meadows. This includes a sneak peek into some of those emails and text messages that he turned over to the panel and they want to ask him about. Among them is an email by Meadows sent the day before the attack, saying the National Guard will, quote, "protect pro-Trump people" on January 6. Another involves a series of text messages with members of Congress, including one with an unnamed senator where Meadows says Trump, quote, "thinks the legislators have the power, but the VP has the power, too," referring to then-Vice President Mike Pence and his ability to reverse the election's result.

They also refer to an effort to get state legislators to appoint a new slate of pro-Trump electors instead of the Biden electors. And finally, there were also emails from Meadows to the Trump Justice Department leaders there weeks before the attack, claiming the incidents of voter fraud that should be investigated. But, of course, those were not substantiated.

CORNISH: At this point, the committee is moving ahead on a criminal contempt of Congress charge, as we mentioned in the introduction. What exactly does that mean?

GRISALES: This is similar to an obstruction of a law enforcement investigation, but in this case, it's Congress. Meadows claimed executive privilege shielded him per a directive he received from former President Trump. Now, this is the third contempt referral case for the committee after ex-strategist Steve Bannon and former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. By the way, Clark's contempt referral case is now pending a new appearance before the committee later this week. Bannon, however, is fighting an indictment on this. And we should note Meadows was subpoenaed at the same time, but Bannon outright defied the panel, while Meadows and his attorney bought time by engaging with the committee and turning over some documents.

But Bannon's case could be a preview to the next steps for Meadows. Bannon is now facing two counts for contempt of Congress, so up to a year in jail for each plus fines - each count, that is. And hours before the vote tonight, Meadows' attorney George Terwilliger said this was a, quote, "rush to judgment" and, quote, "unwise, unfair and contrary to law."

CORNISH: Next steps?

GRISALES: After the panel's action, it heads to the House floor and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Once she gets that vote in favor of the contempt referral, which we are expecting, she can then refer it to the U.S. Attorney's Office, and it will be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute. It's a tall order after Bannon, for example, because Meadows did try to cooperate at one point.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Claudia Grisales.

Thanks so much.

GRISALES: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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