Why Meadows will not cooperate with Jan. 6 panel, and what it means for the investigation

It’s been 11 months since the attack on the United States Capitol on Jan. 6. The House Select Committee investigating the attack has issued more than 40 subpoenas, many aimed at Trump administration officials and allies. Josh Gerstein joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the subpoenas and related cooperation and defiance. He’s the senior legal affairs reporter for Politico.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Also at the Capitol, new headwinds for the select committee in the House of Representatives charged with investigating January 6.

    It has been 11 months since the attack on the Capitol, and, since then, the House committee has issued more than 40 subpoenas. A number of those subpoenas are aimed at former Trump administration officials and allies.

    And, today, we got new details about who is cooperating and who is fighting back.

    Josh Gerstein joins me now to bring us up to speed. He is the senior legal affairs reporter for Politico.

    Josh Gerstein, thank you very much for being with us again.

    I think the main information we got today has to do with Mark Meadows, the former White House chief of staff to former President Trump. After initially saying you wouldn't cooperate, then, last week, he said he would. Now, again, he is saying he will not cooperate, not in a live interview.

    What's the significance of this?

  • Josh Gerstein, Politico:

    Well, it's definitely a setback for the committee, because the fact that Meadows had agreed to cooperate, at least partially cooperate, served as a signal for people down the line from the Trump White House and in the Trump orbit that maybe it would be OK to cooperate with the committee, there would be no terrible repercussions.

    But then, really, within a matter of days, to have Meadows reverse himself and say he wouldn't testify, I think it's a problem for the committee, because people are looking for signals. By indicting Steve Bannon for not cooperating, the committee was hoping to send a signal, and now they have got sort of, I think, a confusing set of messages going out to potential witnesses.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what do you make of what his attorney is saying?

    Among other things, he's saying the committee doesn't appear to respect former President Trump's assertion of executive privilege. He's he's saying that the committee is asking for what he calls intensely personal communications?

  • Josh Gerstein:

    Yes, I mean, I don't know how Meadows his lawyers could really be surprised by the fact that the committee doesn't respect President Trump, former President Trump's assertion of executive privilege.

    They have said as much and they have gone to court to essentially fight back against that privilege. So, I'm not really surprised by that. I think what might have happened here is a change of heart on Meadows' part.

    When he decided to cooperate, it was pretty clear that Trump was not happy with that decision. And then we had some conflict between them about Meadows' book that recently came out and some unflattering stories about President Trump that are in there, in particular, his handling of his COVID diagnosis during last year's political campaign season.

    So it wouldn't surprise me that Meadows has decided that, in fact, there's no way to cooperate with the committee and remain in Trump's good graces. And now he's sort of looking for a reason to do an about-face.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now, his attorney is saying that he may be prepared to sit down and — or he may be prepared to answer questions in writing and potentially provide documents. He's already provided some.

    What does that mean? I mean, how different would it be if he's saying, I will answer some questions in writing vs. doing it in person?

  • Josh Gerstein:

    I mean, I think it would be very different. And I'd be surprised to see the committee take him up on that option.

    Generally, investigators like to have a live witness in front of them and to be able to go back and forth and do follow-up. What usually comes out if you have written questions is actually the person's attorneys response to the questions, rather than the person themselves. And, oftentimes, sort of all the detail and anything that might, in fact, be interesting is kind of ironed out of the statement before it makes it to the committee.

    So, like I said, I'd be surprised if they thought that that was an adequate substitute for having in person live testimony.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Josh Gerstein, what do we know, if anything, about the documents that he has already turned over and what more the committee — what more the committee wants in the way of written records?

  • Josh Gerstein:

    Well, it's a little bit unclear, because the committee is trying to also get Trump White House records directly from the National Archives that has custody of those records.

    And, in fact, one of the complaints that Meadows' lawyers has put forward about why they no longer think that he should be testifying is that there's been an effort to secure Meadows' phone records directly from telephone companies. There may have been efforts to secure people's e-mail records or other forms of correspondence.

    And that's one of the explanations that they're giving for why they don't want to cooperate. I think they may be afraid that they could be surprised at a potential deposition by things that they haven't seen or haven't expected.

    So I'm curious about how that will eventually be resolved. I think that the simplest way would be for him to try not to testify. But, of course, that risks criminal prosecution, just like Steve Bannon is currently being prosecuted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And that is the committee's recourse. That is something they can do, if they choose.

    We also received word today that the former Vice President Mike Pence's his chief of staff, Marc Short, is saying that he will cooperate with the committee. How do you read that?

  • Josh Gerstein:

    Well Marc Short, I put in a somewhat different category from a lot of other Trump officials. He was already someone that had been critical of President Trump's response to the events on January 6.

    He was someone that is seen more as being in Vice President Pence's camp. And so the fact that he would cooperate, I don't think is really going to be taken as a signal by other Trump allies that they should go one way or the other way. I view it as a fairly unique circumstance.

    And given Marc Short's track record and his position and his allegiances to Pence, I'm not surprised that he would step forward and say, I will cooperate with the committee. In fact, he's told a lot of this story publicly already.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, of course, that's a reminder that Vice President Pence was the subject of much of what the mob that attacked the Capitol was there looking for.

    Josh Gerstein with Politico, thank you very much.

  • Josh Gerstein:

    Thank you, Judy. Take care.

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