Donald Trump Jr. Pressed Top Trump Aide To Act During Jan. 6 Capitol Attack : The NPR Politics Podcast The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol recommended that Mark Meadows, White House chief of staff under President Trump, be charged with contempt of Congress after he stopped cooperating with the panel. The decision comes as the committee disclosed messages sent during the attack by Fox News Channel hosts, Republican lawmakers, and Donald Trump Jr. asking Meadows to act to stop the assault on the Capitol.

In case you missed it:
The Docket: Executive Privilege

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Donald Trump Jr. Pressed Top Trump Aide To Act During Jan. 6 Capitol Attack

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VIOLET: Hello. This is Violet (ph).

DALE: Dale (ph).

MIDORI: Midori (ph).

JOANNE: Joanne (ph).

VIOLET: And we have successfully failed to summit Mount Whitney, stopping at 11,600 feet. This show was recorded at...

TAMARA KEITH, HOST:

2:05 p.m. on Tuesday, the 14 of December.

VIOLET: Things may have changed by the time you hear this, but we will hopefully be sitting down, eating hot food, drinking cold beer and strategizing our next attempt. OK. Enjoy the show.

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KEITH: Wait. Did they say they've successfully failed?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Yes.

KEITH: I like that. I like honoring attempts.

GRISALES: Me, too. I can say that about the hill by my house. I have successfully failed to summit that as well.

(LAUGHTER)

KEITH: And I'm about to successfully fail to complete the Planksgiving (ph) challenge.

GRISALES: Oh, man. If anyone can make it, you can make it.

KEITH: And I don't think I can make it.

GRISALES: (Laughter).

KEITH: Hey there. It's the NPR POLITICS PODCAST. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: And I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.

KEITH: Mark Meadows, the former Trump White House chief of staff, could soon face criminal charges. He's defying the House panel investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, and they've voted to recommend contempt of Congress charges against him as we speak. The House is set to consider those charges very soon. As part of that process, the committee has released some stunning text messages that Meadows received on the day of the insurrection. Claudia, what are you learning as the committee makes its case for contempt?

GRISALES: Yes. This was pretty explosive, what we've learned so far as they make this case. They're detailing information that Meadows did turn over. This is before he stopped cooperating. And that's more than 8,500 emails and text messages. And we're getting some snippets of those messages that he received and how he responded in some cases.

It's clear as this panel moves deeper into this investigation, they're getting behind closed doors on the day of January 6. That is, we're getting a sense of some of the frantic text messages sent by Trump's own allies. This includes high-profile personalities at Fox News, several unnamed GOP lawmakers and even his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to Meadows, hoping he could intervene as the hours of this violent attack ticked by. And it's apparent they were all asking the White House to take more definitive action.

KEITH: Yeah. When this came out, it was Congresswoman Liz Cheney who read some of these messages and just hearing her say those words kind of takes you back to January 6 and just how frightening and frightened people were.

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LIZ CHENEY: One text Mr. Meadows received said, quote, "we are under siege here at the Capitol," another, quote, "they have breached the Capitol." In a third - Mark, protesters are literally storming the Capitol, breaking windows on doors, rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?

GRISALES: It just really brings that picture closer into how deeply worried even those closest to Trump were that day.

KEITH: Carrie, Meadows keeps pointing to executive privilege as a reason not to cooperate, and that's a protection the president can invoke over communications with his or her top advisers. But does it really work in this case?

JOHNSON: Well, that's a good question, Tam. As you pointed out, it's the president's privilege to assert, and Donald Trump is not the current president of the United States. As we all know, Joe Biden is. And pursuant to a letter from his White House counsel, Dana Remus, the president has decided not to assert executive privilege over a whole batch of materials related to Jan. 6 because of how unique this situation was - remember; it was the biggest assault on the Capitol since the War of 1812 - and because the executive privilege is supposed to protect the rule of law and the office, not the president's personal prerogatives here.

And so Mark Meadows and Donald Trump may be trying to use that argument, but it's not at all clear it's going to ultimately hold up in court. Remember; just last week, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit, led by Judge Patty Millett, found that Trump did not deserve to block certain materials from going to the National Archives - are being released by the National Archives, in part because Joe Biden and the Congress were united. Two branches of government are united that these materials are important for Congress to have as part of its legislative authority and as part of its need to investigate what exactly happened earlier this year at the Capitol.

KEITH: So I want to drill down just a little bit more on this executive privilege thing because Meadows was sort of cooperating. I mean, that's where all these text messages came from and emails and, you know, the email where he says, you know, Trump people will be protected by the National Guard or the National Guard will be there to protect Trump people, pro-Trump people. There's a lot of stuff that he shared. It was like he was cooperating, and then he stopped cooperating. But at the same time, all of this back-and-forth is happening about what he could possibly share. I mean, he wrote a book that reveals communications between him and the president.

GRISALES: So the book is the center of one of the arguments that the panel is using. Now they're saying, if he can talk about these conversations he had with the former president on January 6 in this book, then his claims to executive privilege are weakened. He should be able to come before the panel and at least be able to discuss those topics before them.

KEITH: So, Carrie, how does the law look at this?

JOHNSON: You know, I asked Philip Lacovara about this recently. Philip Lacovara was actually involved in the initial Watergate investigation all those years ago. He's been following executive privilege ever since the Supreme Court laid out the privilege in that first case that got to the high court involving former President Nixon. Here's what he had to say.

PHILIP LACOVARA: There really never has been true assurance that the comments, recommendations, analyses by presidential advisers would remain confidential. Whether the public is really benefited by conflicting versions of what happened when they're motivated by the desire to be as lurid as possible to make The New York Times bestseller list, one can debate. But it just goes to show that perhaps the privilege itself may be resting on pretty shaky foundations.

KEITH: And this is a good time to just give a little promo that Carrie did an episode of The Docket, which is the legal segment on this podcast. She did an episode on The Docket all about executive privilege. Y'all should go listen to it. And before we head into the break, I just want to do the big picture here, which is that Mark Meadows is refusing to testify about his role and the president's role in an effort to subvert the election, to reverse the results of a free and fair election. And in some of those documents that have been released, it is very clear that Meadows was working actively to find a way to reverse the results of the election.

JOHNSON: Yes. This is an argument the committee has made again and again, that he was this intermediary during all these plans, whether it was involving state lawmakers in key states or whether it was allies of the former president - trying to find ways to overturn the election's results. But we also see a different side of Meadows in these text messages. For example, in the midst of the attack, when Donald Trump Jr.'s texting him and saying, more needs to be done, more action from his father, meadows responded, quote, "I'm pushing it hard. I agree." So there's a lot of different versions here in terms of Meadows' role, and that's what we're learning more about. It's evolving as we learn more of these details.

GRISALES: And can I just point out from a legal analysis here this privilege protects, as we said earlier, the office of the presidency, not the personal goals of the person who happens to be president or the chief of staff or, potentially, an effort to subvert the legal certification of the election for somebody else, which is what was apparently under attempt on January 6?

KEITH: All right. We're going to take a quick break, and when we get back, whether Mark Meadows could face charges.

And we're back. And we're expecting the House of Representatives to vote today to hold Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff, in contempt of Congress. We saw previously the Justice Department pursue criminal contempt against Steve Bannon. Could they do this, too, against Meadows? Is that where this is headed, Carrie?

JOHNSON: They could, although the analysis is a little bit different. Remember; Steve Bannon didn't work in the White House, hadn't worked in the White House for three years at the time of the Capitol siege. And Bannon didn't even show up, didn't cooperate, didn't turn over anything to the committee, whereas Mark Meadows was the chief of staff, the right-hand man to the president, the man we now know who the president's children were appealing to to get the president to act - the former president to act on January 6.

And Meadows has engaged in some level of cooperation with the committee. His attorney, George Terwilliger, says it's not like he was cooperating and stopped cooperating, although that's clearly the way lawmakers see it. So the analysis is going to be a little different. Remember; it took DOJ something like three weeks between the time of the referral from Congress and the actual misdemeanor charge to be filed against Bannon. I do expect if they proceed against Mark Meadows, the Justice Department, that it will take a little bit of time to investigate before they act.

KEITH: Well, and this is not without political sensitivity for the Justice Department.

JOHNSON: Yeah. Remember that one of the things that new Attorney General Merrick Garland has been talking about since his confirmation, maybe even before, is the need to restore a sense of confidence inside and outside the Justice Department that they're doing things for the right reasons based on the facts and the law, not the political leanings of the president, the personal desires of the president or the people in the White House. And so I am sure that that is going to be a statement we're going to hear out of the Justice Department again, no matter what it decides what to expect on Mark Meadows.

That said, it's hard to separate politics from January 6, right? It just is, in part because so many current members of Congress - Claudia knows this - are running away from some of the false statements and lies that former President Trump and some of his followers continue to issue over the results of the election. This is complicated stuff politically.

GRISALES: Yeah. That's an interesting point that Carrie brings up about kind of these political challenges ahead for the Justice Department to consider this. You can see the panel's approach to these contempt referrals. They started with a slam-dunk - Bannon, who outright defied testifying, turning over any document. But Meadows and his attorney have done enough of a dance in terms of - they have turned over documents, but he didn't appear. So it is going to be very tricky for them.

KEITH: I think it's really easy to get caught up in following every detail and the legal maneuvering or this text message or that text message. But there is a forest through these trees, if you will, and it is that there was an attack on the U.S. Capitol. There was an attack on democracy.

And there is essentially no agreement. There is a political fight even over investigating this very big thing that happened at the same time that the former president is now systematically endorsing or trashing - depending on which side they're on - putting - trying to put people in place for 2022 and 2024, trying to get people in place, you know, from low-level local government to the highest levels of Congress - to get people in place who are loyalists, who, if it was November 2020, would have taken a different course than the people who were there who served as the guardrails.

JOHNSON: Right. That's a good point. The Trump machine is still going, and it's really interesting seeing that against kind of the backlash of all of these details that keep coming up. We're kind of reaching a stage of the investigation where it's a tsunami of information. And, yes, the key is trying to keep an eye on what the larger picture is, especially when you put it up against what Trump and his allies are up to right now and going forward.

KEITH: All right. We're going to leave it there for today. I'm Tamara Keith. I cover the White House.

GRISALES: I'm Claudia Grisales. I cover Congress.

JOHNSON: And I'm Carrie Johnson, national justice correspondent.

KEITH: And thank you for listening to the NPR POLITICS PODCAST.

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