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Meadows held in contempt, Jan. 6 panel sends a criminal referral to the House

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Mark Meadows is one step closer to criminal charges. The House panel investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol voted last night to hold him in contempt of Congress. Meadows is refusing to cooperate. The onetime chief of staff to ex-President Donald Trump did to give information for a time. And that is how committee member Liz Cheney got to read his text messages from the time of the attack. Personalities from the Fox cable channel pleaded with Meadows to get Trump to call off the violence. And so did a member of the then-president's family.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: Donald Trump Jr. texted again and again, urging action by the president. Quote, "We need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand."

INSKEEP: NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales is covering this story. Claudia, good morning.

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: OK, the move toward contempt charges was expected, but the text messages are new and pretty compelling.

GRISALES: Right. This was quite extraordinary. We knew Meadows turned over more than 8,500 emails and text messages, but we didn't know many specifics. Here's another snippet from a message from Donald Trump Jr. to Meadows, as read by Liz Cheney.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: (Reading) He's got to condemn this [expletive] ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.

GRISALES: Cheney said Meadows responded, quote, "I'm pushing it hard, I agree." And we should note that day, Trump tweeted people should, quote, "stay peaceful" and later released a video saying he loved the rioters, but they needed to go home.

INSKEEP: It's such an interesting dynamic, Claudia, because these are people who can call Donald Trump themselves and in many cases do. But they seem to have given up on going directly to the then-president. They're texting Mark Meadows, saying, get in there and help. Who were some of the other people?

GRISALES: Right. Cheney named hosts Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade of Fox News. They wanted Trump to act immediately. For example, Ingraham said the attack was, quote, "hurting all of us." Both she and Hannity said Trump should make a statement asking the rioters to leave the Capitol, while Kilmeade said Trump was, quote, "destroying everything." And that was in addition to several text messages from unnamed Republican members of Congress asking for Trump to intervene.

INSKEEP: Given that Meadows gave up these text messages, how did he end up in a position where he's facing contempt charges?

GRISALES: Yes, he initially cooperated by turning over these personal emails and those text messages but then reversed course the day before his deposition last week. And he also sued the committee. He said executive privilege prevents him from cooperating further. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson touched on this ahead of last night's vote.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: He changed his mind and told us to pound sand. He didn't even show up.

GRISALES: Yet this was all happening as his book about his time in the White House was released, hurting his arguments of executive privilege.

INSKEEP: Is Meadows actually saying, pound sand?

GRISALES: Well, not in those terms, but he did not show up. And that's the message that was received by the committee. Meadows was also on Hannity's show last night, and he called the vote disappointing but not surprising. And he said the committee is partisan.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE SEAN HANNITY SHOW")

MARK MEADOWS: This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.

GRISALES: We expect the Democratic-led House to approve this contempt referral as early as today. And then it's referred to the U.S. Attorney's Office. And then it will be up to the Justice Department to decide whether to prosecute. And if so, Meadows could face a year in jail for each contempt charge and fines. We expect Meadows to vigorously fight these criminal charges if it comes to that, as his attorney, George Terwilliger, said ahead of the vote that this was, quote, "a rush to judgment and unwise, unfair and contrary to law."

INSKEEP: Claudia, thanks for your reporting, as always.

GRISALES: Thank you so much.

INSKEEP: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Claudia Grisales is a congressional reporter assigned to NPR's Washington Desk.