Donald Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows has sued House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot in an attempt to avoid testifying before the panel.
The move comes the same day the committee indicated it would move forward with contempt charges after Meadows didn’t show up for his scheduled deposition.
Meadows’ attorneys wrote in the suit, filed in Washington D.C. federal court on Wednesday, that if Meadows does comply with the committee’s request, he would be “illegally coerced into violating the Constitution.”
“The Select Committee wrongly seeks to compel both Mr. Meadows and a third party telecommunications company to provide information to the Select Committee that the Committee lacks lawful authority to seek and to obtain,” his lawyers said. They alleged the committee’s subpoena would “violate longstanding principles of executive privilege and immunity.”
Trump has directed his lieutenants not to speak to the congressional committee about Jan. 6, claiming executive privilege shields him and his associates from lawmakers’ subpoenas. President Joe Biden, however, has indicated he will not direct the Justice Department to support Trump’s claim. As a result, Meadows argues he is caught between a rock and a hard place, put in the “untenable position of choosing between conflicting privilege claims.”
Meadows agreed just last week to speak to the panel of lawmakers, but he reversed course Tuesday. He has already turned over thousands of pages of documents, including some unflattering text messages, but his lawyers say he pulled out because the panel wanted to probe privileged matters. The committee has interviewed nearly 300 witnesses in its investigation of the attempted insurrection.
Committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) wrote to Meadows’ lawyer, George Terwilliger, on Tuesday, “The select committee is left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings and recommend that the body in which Mr. Meadows once served refer him for criminal prosecution.” Meadows named Thompson as a defendant in his lawsuit.
Documents filed in court along with the lawsuit showed that Terwilliger has been writing to the White House as far back as early October, when he told Biden administration lawyers that his client “asserts no personal stake” in the records that investigators are seeking. But he also defended Meadows’ reluctance, saying that Trump’s former chief of staff “wants to ensure that the institution of the Presidency is protected and that the long-standing traditions which protect its operations are not traded away for political expediency.”
A Nov. 3 letter from Terwilliger to the committee foreshadowed that Wednesday’s lawsuit was coming, and it also indicates that Meadows plans to take his legal fight to the nation’s higher courts.
“Mr. Meadows would resist being so compelled unless and until a court orders him to do otherwise, including after full appellate review,” his lawyer wrote to the committee last month.
Former Trump chief strategist Steve Bannon was indicted for contempt in November after declining to testify before the panel. The committee has also voted to pursue charges against Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department lawyer who pushed the agency to investigate Trump’s baseless claims of voter fraud in the 2020 presidential election.
“There is no legitimate legal basis for Mr. Meadows to refuse to cooperate with the select committee and answer questions about the documents he produced, the personal devices and accounts he used, the events he wrote about in his newly released book and, among other things, his other public statements,” Thompson wrote.
Contempt charges for Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff at the time of the riot, would escalate the stakes of the legal battle over the investigation. Bannon, by contrast, was not working for the Trump administration on Jan. 6.