The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol encountered dual setbacks on Tuesday in its attempts to corral key witnesses.
Early Tuesday, former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows withdrew his cooperation with the investigation — just over a week after signaling that he would comply with the panel’s demands for documents and testimony — after the two parties failed to reach an agreement on terms.
“We have made efforts over many weeks to reach an accommodation with the committee,” Meadows lawyer George Terwilliger told Fox News.
Committee heads warned they might pursue contempt of Congress proceedings against Mr. Meadows if he fails to cooperate on Wednesday.
In a letter to the committee, Mr. Terwilliger said that a deposition would be “untenable” because the Jan. 6 panel “has no intention of respecting boundaries” concerning questions that Mr. Trump has claimed are off-limits because of executive privilege, the Associated Press reported.
Mr. Terwilliger also said he learned over the weekend that the committee issued a subpoena to a third-party communications provider that he said would include “intensely personal” information.
The committee announced last week that Mr. Meadows had struck a deal to cooperate with its probe, in a sharp reversal after he failed to appear at a scheduled deposition in November.
Mr. Terwilliger asserted before the deposition that his client remained “immune” from the committee’s probe citing, Mr. Trump’s claims of executive privilege.
Mr. Terwilliger had said he believed his client could reach a deal with the committee to cooperate, while also emphasizing that Mr. Meadows could not make “a unilateral decision to waive executive privilege claims asserted by the former president.”
But in the letter to committee leadership Tuesday, Mr. Terwilliger said he no longer believed that an agreement under those terms could be reached.
Mr. Trump has sued federal officials over the release of documents related to the Jan. 6 probe. His legal team said in the lawsuit that the House committee has “no legitimate legislative purpose” for its request.
Mr. Meadows is among several witnesses that have leaned on the president’s legal claims as justification for stalling the committee, but the committee rejects that Mr. Trump’s argument has any standing.
Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, said despite Mr. Terwilliger’s letter, they still expect Mr. Meadow’s to cooperate.
“Even as we litigate privilege issues, the Select Committee has numerous questions for Mr. Meadows about records he has turned over to the Committee with no claim of privilege, which include real-time communications with many individuals as the events of January 6th unfolded,” they said.
“We also need to hear from him about voluminous official records stored in his personal phone and email accounts, which were required to be turned over to the National Archives in accordance with the Presidential Records Act,” the lawmakers said.
Mr. Thompson and Ms. Cheney said the committee planned to proceed with Mr. Meadows’ deposition scheduled for Wednesday, and said they would “be left with no choice but to advance contempt proceedings,” should he fail to appear.
The committee has continued to lob similar threats at several uncooperative witnesses who have leaned on the president’s legal claims as justification for stalling the committee.
Later Tuesday, however, signs emerged that the committee’s threats of contempt charges may not carry the same sting as they once did.
Just hours after Mr. Meadows announced he would no longer cooperate in the probe, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols dashed the committee’s hopes for a fast-paced trial against former Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon by setting a mid-July trial date. The committee had hoped to leverage prosecution of Mr. Bannon as an example for other reluctant witnesses.
The committee voted in October to recommend contempt of Congress charges for Mr. Bannon after he stonewalled demands for documents and testimony.
The date announced Tuesday falls between the Department of Justice’s proposal to begin the trial no later than Apr. 15 and Mr. Bannon’s request to begin in mid-October.
In court papers filed Monday, the two legal teams highlighted key differences in opinion on the scope of the proceedings and the time needed to prepare for trial.
The prosecution said the matter is essentially an open-and-shut case requiring little preparation, while Mr. Bannon’s team said the case raises “complex constitutional issues” that the prosecution skirts.
“Some of these issues involve inter-branch relationships and on the operations of the U.S. government at its highest levels. There is no basis for having these issues adjudicated on a rushed basis,” Mr. Bannon’s team wrote.
Rep. Adam Schiff, California Democrat and member of the committee, played down the impact the delayed court proceeding would have on the committee’s work.
“Obviously we would prefer it to move more expeditiously,” Mr. Schiff, who also serves as the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said Tuesday. “But the mere indictment of Steve Bannon had the effect of getting the attention of other witnesses that they need to follow the law. So, It’s already had that salutary impact.”
“Whether the prosecution will succeed in convincing Steve Bannon to ultimately follow the law, I don’t know how much faith to put in that,” he said. “And so we will be looking for other ways to get the information we need.”
The legal wrangling surrounding the committee underscores the political conflict at the heart of the Democrat-run panel’s work. Democrats describe their work as a quest for truth, but Mr. Trump‘s supporters view the committee as an attempt to smear Republicans and score political points.
Mr. Bannon, who hosts the “War Room: Pandemic” show, vowed last month after a brief court hearing that he was “going to go on the offense” and would put the Democrat-run government on trial.
“This is going to be a misdemeanor from hell for [Attorney General] Merrick Garland, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden,” he told reporters.