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Congressional committee must keep playing hardball with Mark Meadows — and the rest of Trump’s circle

Maybe the prospect of jail time — however remote — will be enough to compel Meadows to tell lawmakers what he knows about the events of that day, and what role Trump and his administration might have played.

Trump supporters try to break through a police barrier at the Capitol in Washington on Jan. 6. AP Photo/Julio Cortez

We’re glad to see the U.S. House of Representatives deliberate criminal contempt of Congress charges against former President Donald Trump’s White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows for choosing to evade testifying before the bodyabout the Jan. 6 insurrection.

Maybe the prospect of jail time — however remote — will be enough to compel Meadows to tell lawmakers what he knows about the events of that day, and what role Trump and his administration might have played in bringing about the violent attempt to keep Congress from validating the results of the November 2020 election.

Meadows on Jan. 6 “received numerous text messages . . . imploring that Mr. Trump take the specific action [to stop the insurrection attempt] we all know his duty required,” select committee Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., told lawmakers Tuesday.

Meadows knows a lot, judging by the texts, documents and correspondence he’s given the Jan. 6 select committee. But instead of doing the honorable thing and appearing before Congress to testify, Meadows is fighting a subpoena to appear before the committee.

And as such, he’s doing what Trump and his devotees frequently do: Skitter into the shadows rather than step up and tell the truth. So Congress is now in a position to make him appear before the committee.

If we're ever to get to the bottom of Jan. 6 — and see those responsible punished — the committee must keep wielding a firm hand like this.

What did Meadows know?

If the full House votes to approve criminal contempt of Congress charges against Meadows, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., would send the matter to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who will decide whether to bring the case before a federal grand jury.

Meadows is the second Trump administration official now in legal trouble for not complying with a congressional subpoena. Former White House adviser Steve Bannon was found in contempt in October.

Meadows — who is fighting the subpoena by claiming Trump’s executive privilege powers — could face a $1,000 fine and up to a year in prison if convicted. Things rarely get that far, but the charge is a powerful tool to force subjects to ultimately comply with congressional subpoenas.

President George W. Bush’s Chief of Staff Joshua Bolten and former White House Counsel Harriet Miers were hit with contempt of Congress charges in 2007 for not answering subpoenas from a congressional committee probing the firing of a group of U.S. attorneys.

Bolten and Miers later agreed to testify as requested. We want to see that happen with Meadows, who was a point person on Jan. 6, in communication with Trump, members of Congress and even Trump’s family.

In the days leading up to Jan. 6, and as the bedlam at the Capitol occurred, what did Trump know? What did he say? How exactly were government agencies told to respond?

What we know so far from the documents Meadows provided the committee is as troubling as it is damning. As the Capitol was being overrun, lawmakers, members of the Trump inner circle — including Donald Trump Jr. — and even Fox News personalities texted Meadows, trying to get the then-president to compel the attackers to stop the siege.

Trump did, but not until later in a televised video message in which he also told the rioters “We love you, you’re very special” — then repeated his false claims that the November presidential election was stolen from him.

Meadows’ testimony is critical to filling in holes in Jan. 6 narrative and others. We’re especially interested, to note just one example, in an email Meadows sent to an unidentified person saying that the National Guard would be present at the Capitol to “protect pro-Trump people” and that more would be available on standby.

Make no mistake. Meadows has a duty to testify. And the public has a right to hear what he has to say.

Congress and the public must also see any direct correspondence between Meadows and Trump regarding Jan. 6, which is something else the former chief of staff hasn’t provided.

Protecting our democracy

Today, we’re asking ourselves this hard question: Does Congress and this country have the will and the courage to seriously pursue, question and punish those responsible for the attempted insurrection?

Holding people to account cannot stop with just the goofs and yahoos who got caught up in the Big Lie and then trashed the Capitol. Those in high places who organized, allowed and instigated the attack on our democracy must be punished as well.

Holding Meadows, Bannon, Trump’s inner circle and even Trump himself accountable are key steps toward this end.

It is the only way to protect our country from future coup attempts.

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