December 13, 2021 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Cheney hints at criminal charges for Trump in panel vote to hold Mark Meadows in contempt

But perhaps the biggest news was that the vote was televised.

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The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection voted tonight to hold Mark Meadows in criminal contempt of the Congress. The full House could vote as soon as Tuesday on a contempt resolution. The Department of Justice would then decide whether to proceed. It probably will, given what happened to Steve Bannon.

The former president’s former chief of staff had said he would cooperate, then reneged on his commitment, citing executive privilege that Donald Trump no longer has. But Meadows did so after turning over reams and reams of evidence to the select committee, including a PowerPoint presentation outlining how to execute a coup d’etat.

Liz Cheney: “Mr. Meadows’ testimony will bear on another key question before this committee: did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceeding to count the electoral votes?”

Before tonight’s unanimous vote, ranking member Liz Cheney read text messages sent to Meadows from Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeades, all of whom host shows on Fox. She also read a text message to Meadows from Donald Trump, Jr., Trump’s son. All of them urged the former president to call off the attack on the Capitol. 

The text messages made for dramatic TV, but they also substantiated what Trump knew and when he knew it regarding the insurrection. Meadows replied to the above people with messages saying he’s doing what he can to get Trump to stop the attack. It didn’t work, as Trump didn’t say anything until the sacking was well underway.

“When action by our president was required, essential and indeed compelled by his oath to our Constitution, Mr. Meadows received numerous text messages, which he has produced without any privilege claim, imploring Mr. Trump to take specific actions we all knew his duty required,” Cheney said. “These text messages leave no doubt the White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol.” 

Cheney then read texts from unnamed members of Congress desperately trying to reach Trump as the assault and siege were happening. She also read texts from officials in the administration. 

From members of Congress:

  • “We are under siege here at the Capitol.” 
  • “They have breached the Capitol.”
  • “Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol. Breaking windows on doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?” 
  • “There’s an armed stand-off at the House chamber door.”
  • “We are all helpless.” 

From administration officials: 

  • “POTUS has to come out and tell the protesters to dissipate. Someone is going to get killed.”
  • “Mark, he needs to stop this now.”
  • “POTUS needs to calm this shit down.”

Cheney accused Trump of two things, one constitutional, the other statutory. “These non-privileged texts are further evidence of President Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty during those 187 minutes,” she said. That’s one. “Mr. Meadows’ testimony will bear on another key question before this committee: did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’ official proceeding to count the electoral votes?” she said. That’s two.

That last bit about corruptly seeking to obstruct or impede seems taken from 18 U.S. Code § 1505, the law on obstruction of official proceedings. “Whoever corruptly, or by threats or force, or by any threatening letter or communication influences, obstructs, or impedes or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due and proper administration of the law … shall be fined under this title, imprisoned not more than 5 years or, if the offense involves international or domestic terrorism, imprisoned not more than 8 years, or both.”

The Daily Beast’s investigations reporter Jose Pagliery noticed it, too. He said Cheney was suggesting strongly “where this is going: federal criminal charges for President Trump. ‘Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress’s proceedings?’ Um, she’s reading 18 U.S.C. 1505.”

Adam Schiff had words for his House Republican colleagues. He shared a text message to Meadows from a member who encouraged former Vice President Mike Pence to declare Electoral College votes unconstitutional and therefore no vote at all. This advice was in keeping with the Powerpoint presentation that Lindsay Beyerstein reported on last week in which steps toward a coup were outlined.

The day after the insurrection, a member of Congress said this:

Schiff called that “chilling.” He’s right.

Perhaps the biggest news was the vote being televised. The cable networks did not carry the Steven Bannon vote. That CNN and MSNBC carried the vote this time (Fox didn’t) might suggest the Democrats are trying to make the investigation more visible. It might suggest merely the news value of the vote. (Text messages make for good TV, after all.) Or it might suggest the Democrats understand how to get the press corps’ attention by offering tasty news items. In any case, tonight was an improvement. The more eyes on Trump’s treason, the better.

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

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