The United States House of Representatives has voted to recommend former President Donald Trump’s White House chief of staff be held in contempt of Congress for refusing to fully cooperate in an investigation into the deadly January riot at the US Capitol.
Legislators on Tuesday voted 222-208 to recommend the Department of Justice prosecute Mark Meadows, a former Congressman who served as Trump’s top White House aide from March 2020 to January 2021.
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The vote comes after Meadows halted his cooperation with a House panel investigating the storming of the US Capitol by Trump supporters, who were attempting to stop legislators from certifying the presidential election victory of Joe Biden on January 6.
“History will be written about these times, about the work this committee has undertaken,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chairman of the House panel investigating the riot. “And history will not look upon any of you as a martyr. History will not look upon you as a victim.”
The panel had moved on Monday to send the vote on the recommendation to the full chamber, which is controlled by Democrats. Two Republicans, Representatives Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, who are both on the panel, broke party ranks and voted in favour of the recommendation during the full house vote on Tuesday.
The Department of Justice will now decide whether to pursue charges, with a conviction carrying up to a year in prison.
The move is the latest indication the House panel investigating the riot, which was created after attempts to form a wider commission with the US Senate failed, is willing to use its powers to seek punishment for those who seek to block or slow their probe.
In November, the panel recommended contempt charges against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. The overall House, including nine Republicans, later voted in favour of the recommendation, and Bannon was subsequently indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress.
Meadows’ approach to the investigation has been less clear cut than Bannon’s. He had turned over documents and was negotiating an interview when investigators said he stopped cooperating. Bannon had stonewalled the investigators, as Trump has urged his allies to do, from the start.
Meadows was also the top White House aide at the time of the riot, giving him more ground to argue that any refusal to participate could be protected by executive privilege, a concept that allows the president and some staff to maintain confidentiality of some communictions.
Republican Representative Tom Cole on Tuesday called the vote “wildly premature”, noting both Trump and Meadows have open lawsuits against the panel, alleging their subpoenas are too broad.
Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, in a statement on Tuesday denied that his client had stopped cooperating, saying he was constrained by his former role.
“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,” Terwilliger said.
Investigators on the House panel have so far interviewed at least 250 witnesses and subpoenaed thousands of documents as they seek to paint a fuller picture of the circumstances surrounding the January 6 riot.
They have maintained that Meadow’s proximity to Trump at the time of the riot makes him a key witness in determining the full role of the former president in the deadly event.
On Monday, Cheney, the Republican vice chairwoman of the House panel, read out panicked text messages Meadows had received on January 6 from unidentified legislators, Trump confidants, and Fox News hosts pleading with him to urge Trump to appear publicly and tell his followers to stand down.
“He’s got to condemn this s— ASAP. We need an Oval Office address,” Trump’s son Donald Jr said in one text.