Members Only | December 9, 2021 | Reading Time: 3 minutes

He was set to testify about a PowerPoint outlining step-by-step Trump’s failed coup. Then Mark Meadows chickened out

He’s invoking privilege he doesn’t have.

Screenshot of a slide in a PowerPoint presentation submitted to Congress.
Screenshot of a slide in a PowerPoint presentation submitted to Congress.

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The January 6 Committee is poised to hold former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt after he failed to show up to testify on Wednesday. In a letter to his lawyer, Committee Chair Bennie Thompson recapped some eyebrow-raising documents Meadows had provided to the committee, but now refuses to testify about. 

January 6 Committee Chair Bennie Thompson is suggesting, based on the documents turned over to his committee, that the president’s chief of staff was actively involved in a campaign to sell GOP members of Congress on Trump’s coup plan.

Meadows is invoking vague and sweeping claims of privilege to defend his no-show. He has filed a lawsuit in a last-ditch attempt to avoid testifying. But as Thompson noted in his letter, Meadows didn’t think the following items were privileged when he handed them over to the committee. So he has no legal basis to refuse to testify about them: 

  • A November 7 email discussing a plan to send “alternative” (i.e., fake) Trump electors as part of a “direct and collateral attack” and a text message to a member of Congress in which Meadows writes that he “loves” the fake elector plan. 
  • A January 5 email discussing an 38-page PowerPoint presentation entitled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference, and Options for Jan 6,” that was to be distributed “on the hill.” That sounds like Meadows intended to show the presentation to the very members of Congress whom Trump hoped would carry out the procedural coup outlined therein.
  • A January 5 email about putting the National Guard on standby for reasons unspecified in Thompson’s recap. 

It’s unclear who wrote this presentation, or whether it was actually presented or circulated to any members of Congress on the eve of the insurrection. But the presentation advocates the radical anti-democratic blueprints advanced by Trump attorneys John Eastman and Sidney Powell. 

The presentation recommends that Trump declare a national security emergency, allege foreign interference in the election, discard all electronic votes and deputize the National Guard to recount only the paper ballots, which according to the author of the deck, would result in a Trump win.


A slide entitled “Options for 6 Jan” covers the same three options for a procedural coup that Eastman outlined in his notorious memos

  • Vice President Mike Pence casts aside the real Biden electors from the swing states and counts the votes of fraudulent Trump electors in their place
  • Pence throws out all the electoral votes of the swing states Biden won; or Pence sends the election “back to the states.” 

Last week, Eastman invoked his constitutional right not to testify before the January 6 Committee on grounds that what he had to say would tend to incriminate him. 

Trump publicly pressured Pence to override the results of the election. Eastman worked behind the scenes urging Pence to steal the election, based on the same pseudo-legal arguments that we see in the slide deck. 

Pence privately demurred until just before he was to preside over the joint session of Congress on January 6, whereupon he released a letter saying he had no unilateral authority to pick the winner. 

Screenshot of a slide in a PowerPoint presentation submitted to Congress.

After giving a rambling speech on the Ellipse alleging voter fraud and assailing the supposed cowardice of Pence, Trump set the MAGA mob on the Capitol. The crowd chanted “Hang Mike Pence!” as they marched. Meanwhile, Eastman continued to badger Pence in an email to Pence’s aide, even after the insurgents had overrun the Capitol, blaming the siege on Pence’s refusal to play along with Trump’s procedural coup.

“The ‘siege’ is because YOU and your boss did not do what was necessary to allow this to be aired in a public way so that the American people can see for themselves what happened [with the imaginary election fraud],” Eastman wrote, as the aide and his boss hid in a safe room as the mob rampaged through the building. 

We’ve known for some time that Eastman and Powell advocated a multi-pronged procedural coup based on baseless allegations of voter fraud. 

We know they made their cases directly to Donald Trump. 


We know Trump publicly and privately pressured Pence to disregard the Constitution and unilaterally reinstall Trump as president against the will of the voters. 

Bennie Thompson is suggesting, based on the documents turned over to his committee, that the president’s chief of staff was also actively involved in a campaign to sell Republican members of Congress on Trump’s coup plan. 

Meadows gave these documents to the committee and now he has no excuse not to show up and testify about what’s in them. 

Lindsay Beyerstein covers legal affairs, health care and politics for the Editorial Board. An award-winning documentary filmmaker, she’s a judge for the Sidney Hillman Foundation. Find her @beyerstein.

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