CONTRIBUTORS

Mark Meadows wasn’t there, but he had a really bad Jan. 6 hearing

Ned Barnett
The News & Observer (TNS)
Mark Meadows, former chief of staff to former President Donald Trump, is displayed on a screen during a hearing by the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol on June 9, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/TNS)

Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows was not at Thursday’s latest hearing by the Jan. 6 committee hearing. But his presence loomed as witnesses reconstructed the events leading up to and on the day that supporters of then-President Donald Trump attacked the U.S. Capitol.

Meadows, a former Republican congressman from western North Carolina, may have been absent from the hearing room, but the testimony aired there put him in the thick of the tumult of Jan. 6, 2021, and the failed plot to overturn the election. As others called on him to intervene with the president that day, he apparently did nothing to stop Trump. Instead, Trump used Twitter to stir a mob against Vice President Mike Pence because he would not block the certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

Meadows’ aide Ben Williamson said in video testimony played during the hearing that when Meadows learned that the Capitol protest had turned violent, the chief of staff spoke with Trump. White House staffers thought he would get Trump to call off the violent protesters with a tweet.

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“We had all talked about — at that point about how it was bad and, you know, the situation was getting out of hand,” Matthews said. “We thought that the president needed to tweet something and tweet something immediately.”

Instead, Trump sent a tweet that condemned Pence for not blocking the vote certification. The tweet incited the crowd against the vice president, who minutes later narrowly escaped the Capitol intruders by being taken to a secure location within the Capitol complex.

Others were frantically texting Meadows to have the president call off the attackers, but Trump did nothing for hours.

Testimony earlier this week made it clear that Trump knew his claims of a stolen election were false. On Thursday, it also became clear that he knew that a desperate plan hatched by conservative lawyer John Eastman to block the certifying of the Electoral College votes was illegal and that Pence would not carry it out.

Marc Short, Pence’s chief of staff, said in video testimony played during the hearing that he thought Meadows agreed that the vice president’s role in the vote certification was strictly ceremonial and Pence had no legal power to change the process.

“I believe Mark did agree,” Short said, though he couldn’t be sure because Meadows changed his position depending on whom he was talking to. Short said, “Mark told so many people so many different things.”

Apparently, that inconsistency didn’t apply to his exchanges with Trump in the days leading up to and on Jan. 6. In those instances, Meadows just said yes.

Less than a year after the attack, Meadows published a fawning book about his role as Trump’s fourth and final chief of staff. He titled it “The Chief’s Chief,” but these hearings are making it clear that Meadows’ real role was as the chief’s chief enabler.

Meadows initially cooperated with the Jan. 6 committee by turning over thousands of texts and emails, but he stopped cooperating last December. His lawyer said Meadows changed course because the committee “has no intention of respecting boundaries concerning executive privilege.”

Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the Jan. 6 committee, said before the House voted to hold Meadows in contempt of Congress, “There was a steady stream of communication between certain members of Congress and Mr. Meadows about matters central to our investigation. We have questions about those communications. We will pursue those questions and we won’t let the facts be buried by a cover-up.”

Despite the House vote, the Department of Justice declined to charge Meadows with criminal contempt of Congress.

Meadows can’t change what he did and failed to do around the attack on the Capitol, but it is not too late for him to put loyalty to his country above loyalty to Trump. He should end his holdout and testify. It would be an ugly story, but this time he would be on the side of truth.

— Ned Barnett is associate opinion editor for The News & Observer