WASHINGTON -- The House panel investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection voted Monday to recommend contempt charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows as lawmakers revealed a series of frantic texts he received as the attack was underway.
“We need an Oval address," Donald Trump Jr. texted Meadows as his father's supporters were breaking into the Capitol, sending lawmakers running for their lives and interrupting the certification of President Joe Biden's victory. "He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”
Trump Jr. added, "He’s got to condemn this s—- ASAP."
Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the panel's vice chairwoman, detailed the texts obtained by the committee as the panel voted to recommend the contempt charges against Meadows, who did not show up for a deposition last week after his lawyer said he would stop cooperating.
The panel voted 9-0 to recommend the contempt charges. The House is expected to vote Tuesday to refer the charges to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to prosecute the former Republican congressman.
Cheney said the texts show Trump's “supreme dereliction” as he refused to strongly condemn the violence of his supporters, and also raise questions about whether he sought to obstruct the congressional certification through inaction.
“These texts leave no doubt,” Cheney said. “The White House knew exactly what was happening at the Capitol.”
The vote comes as the panel has already interviewed more than 300 witnesses, and subpoenaed more than 40 people, as it seeks to create the most comprehensive record yet of the lead-up to the insurrection and of the violent siege itself. The committee's leaders have vowed to punish anyone who doesn't comply, and the Justice Department has already indicted longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon after he defied his subpoena this fall.
“Whatever legacy he thought he left in the House, this is his legacy now,” committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said of Meadows — a former Republican congressman from North Carolina — ahead of the vote. “His former colleagues singling him out for criminal prosecution because he wouldn’t answer questions about what he knows about a brutal attack on our democracy. That’s his legacy.”
In a Monday letter to Thompson, Meadows’ attorney George Terwilliger said the contempt vote would be “unjust” because Meadows was one of Trump’s top aides and all presidents should be afforded executive privilege to shield their private conversations. Meadows himself sued the panel, asking a court to invalidate two subpoenas that he says are “overly broad and unduly burdensome.”
Terwilliger noted that the contempt statute has been used infrequently over time and argued that a contempt referral of a senior presidential aide “would do great damage to the institution of the Presidency.”
The committee has gradually teased a handful of the emails and texts Meadows had provided to the committee before he ended his cooperation — including 6,600 pages of records taken from personal email accounts and about 2,000 text messages. The panel has not released any of the communications in full.
On Monday, Cheney read the texts from Trump Jr. and a series of Fox News hosts as those in Trump’s inner circle attempted to reach the president through his chief of staff, imploring him to take action against the violence that was taking place outside and inside the Capitol.
“Hey Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home ... this is hurting all of us ... he is destroying his legacy,” Fox News host Laura Ingraham texted Meadows, according to the committee.
“Please get him on tv. Destroying everything you have accomplished,” Brian Kilmeade wrote.
In response to one text from Trump Jr., Meadows texted: “I’m pushing it hard. I agree.”
Cheney also detailed texts that she said were from members of Congress and others in the Capitol.
“Hey, Mark, protestors are literally storming the Capitol,” read one text. "Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?”
Another appeared to come from a member in the House chamber. “There’s an armed standoff at the House Chamber door,” the text read, according to the panel.
If Meadows had appeared for his deposition, lawmakers had planned to ask him about Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in the weeks before the insurrection, including his outreach to states and his communications with members of Congress.
Trump’s former top White House aide “is uniquely situated to provide key information, having straddled an official role in the White House and unofficial role related to Mr. Trump’s reelection campaign,” the panel said in a 51-page report released Sunday evening.
As part of its list of questions for Meadows, the panel says it wanted to know more about whether Trump was engaged in discussions regarding the response of the National Guard, which was delayed for hours as the violence escalated and the rioters beat police guarding the Capitol building.
The documents provided by Meadows include an email he sent to an unidentified person saying that the Guard would be present to “protect pro Trump people," the panel said, and that more would be available on standby. The committee did not release any additional details about the email.
In a transcript of the deposition Meadows skipped, committee staff said they would have interviewed Meadows about emails “to leadership at the Department of Justice on December 29th and 30th, 2020, and January 1st, 2021, encouraging investigations of suspected voter fraud,” even though election officials and courts across the country had rejected those claims.
In a text exchange with an unidentified senator, the committee said, Meadows said Trump believed Vice President Mike Pence had power to reject electors in his role presiding over the Jan. 6 certification.
Pence did not have that power under the law, as the vice president’s function is largely ceremonial.
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.