Has Mark Meadows Just Taken Down Donald Trump?

Former chief of staff to Donald Trump, Mark Meadows, who faces contempt charges for refusing to cooperate with the panel probing the January 6 Capitol riot, could prove to be extremely damaging to the former president, according to a former Watergate prosecutor.

The nine-member House Select Committee investigating the January 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol building voted unanimously on Monday to refer Meadows to the Department of Justice on criminal contempt of Congress charges. It came shortly after the release of a damning 51-page report that painted the former GOP congressman as at the heart of the events that unfolded on January 6, and laid out a compelling case establishing a need for his testimony.

Speaking to Newsweek, former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said although it's difficult at this stage to assess the precise damage that Meadows can do to the former president, the details outlined in the panel's report, coupled with the pair's relationship and close proximity as the events of January 6 unfolded, could hurt Trump.

"There is a growing body of evidence about the president's role [in January 6]," said Wine-Banks, author of "The Watergate Girl."

"Mark Meadows, as Trump's chief of staff, was as close to the president as anybody—both physically and in terms of discussions. So he's a rich source of information that could be very damaging," she said.

Former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks
Jill Wine-Banks at 'Watergate: The Long View panel during Politicon at Pasadena Convention Center on July 29, 2017 in Pasadena, California. The former Watergate prosecutor spoke with Newsweek about Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows as he faces contempt charges. Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Politicon

Meadows was singled out in the committee's report, released on December 12, as one of a relatively small group of people who witnessed the events of January 6 in the White House and with then-President Trump.

"Mr Meadows was with or in the vicinity of then-President Trump on January 6 as he learned about the attack on the U.S. Capitol and decided whether to issue a statement that could stop the rioters," the report said.

Further, Wine-Banks said, the report contains a swath of details that makes Trump culpable for what happened.

"It is a fairly reasonable assumption to make [that the report is damaging to Trump]," she said. "There's so much in the report that makes the president culpable for what happened."

"For the attempt to interfere with democracy—it's not just the violence and the deaths and the destruction of property on January 6, it was the whole concept of stealing the election," Wine-Banks explained.

"And I don't mean Trump's false accusations that the Democrats were stealing the election, but I'm talking about his attempt to subvert the will of the people and the properly certified and free and fair election results," she said.

Wine-Banks added, "He [Trump] incited the crowd to do what they did, he encouraged them to do what they did."

Lawyer Teri Kanefield, a UC Berkeley graduate, suggested that by refusing to appear for a deposition before the committee, Meadows is attempting to protect Trump.

"It seems to me that the question here is how far Meadows is willing to go to protect Trump. It's like Meadows is the consigliere and Trump is the Don," wrote Kanefield on Twitter. "He is refusing the chance to explain incriminating documents, which either means he is guilty as sin or he is protecting someone else who is. Or . . why not both?"

Meanwhile Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College, raised questions about Meadows' refusal to cooperate with the committee.

"Considering how bad the materials Meadows gave to the committee are—both a PowerPoint outlining how to overturn the election and emails about the National Guard protecting pro-Trump protesters, as well as texts with members of Congress about undermining the election results—one can only wonder what's in the material he is trying so desperately to protect," she wrote in a blog post on December 12.

Wine-Banks told Newsweek that the panel's contempt report presented a strong and compelling case establishing Meadows' "contemptuous behavior."

"What you see is a very widespread, broad swath of conduct called into question directly by Meadows, not just that he witnessed bad behavior by the president [Trump] and others, but that he engaged in bad behavior," she said. "So it makes him a really important witness."

"It involves January 6, it involves days before January 6...it is a very detailed list of potentially criminal behavior—certainly behavior that led to bad results that legislation could correct, and so it's important that Congress gets his testimony."

The report alleged Meadows worked on creating a fake electoral college following the 2020 presidential election, introduced Trump to then-Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark as part of efforts to overturn the results of the election, and sent a January 5 email recommending the National Guard be on "standby," and that troops be "present to protect pro-Trump people," among other claims.

It also alleged that Meadows spoke "nonstop" on January 6 with Kashyap Patel, who was then the chief of staff to former Acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller.

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney, the committee's vice-chair, on Monday described several text messages sent to Meadows on January 6, including calls from Trump's allies to get the former president to issue a statement condemning the violence.

Meadows received text messages from public figures including Trump's son, Donald Trump Jr, and Fox News hosts Laura Ingraham and Brian Kilmeade, the committee said.

Cheney on Monday said the text messages Meadows received are further evidence of Trump's "supreme dereliction of duty" during the breach of the U.S. Capitol.

"And 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's official proceeding to count electoral votes? Mark Meadows' testimony will inform our legislative judgments," she said.

The full House of Representatives is expected to vote on the contempt resolution on Tuesday, and the next step would be a recommendation to the Department of Justice, which would decide whether to prosecute Meadows.

Meadows has sued the committee, arguing it does not have the authority to compel him to talk.

Shortly following the vote to refer him for contempt, Meadows told Fox News' Sean Hannity he believes the panel is pushing to have him be held in contempt to go after Trump.

"This is not about me, holding me in contempt. It's not even about making the Capitol safer," Meadows said, adding: "This is about Donald Trump and about actually going after him once again.

Newsweek has contacted Meadows' attorney, George Terwilliger, for comment.

Wine-Banks said she expects recent developments in Meadow's case will motivate new laws that could hold those in power accountable for their actions.

"Adam Schiff has been a chief sponsor of something called the Protecting Our Democracy Act, which was passed by the House last week and is now pending in the Senate. [It] codifies things we always took for granted a president would do and abide by, which president Trump did not," she said. "Now they're trying to make laws that would make it punishable not to do it. I think that's what has to happen."

Mark Meadows with former President Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump speaks as his then-Chief of Staff Mark Meadows (R) listens prior to Trump's Marine One departure from the South Lawn of the White House July 29, 2020 in Washington, DC. The House Select Committee investigating the January 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol building voted unanimously on Monday to refer Meadows to the Department of Justice on criminal contempt of Congress charges. Alex Wong/Getty Images