Some dangerously crazy notions floated around the Trump White House a year ago, and its chief of staff, Mark Meadows, should testify about them. However, some of the substance of Meadows's actions was not necessarily sinister.
A House panel is set to vote Monday evening to recommend to the full House to hold Meadows in “contempt of Congress” (a potential criminal charge) for withholding some documents and direct testimony from its investigation into the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot. The panel has a point: Meadows’s assertion that he is protecting former President Donald Trump’s “executive privilege” claims are almost entirely spurious legally while also morally obtuse.
Executive privilege, along with similar protections, is likely to apply when military or diplomatic matters aren’t at issue. And as a matter of ethics or morals, Trump’s expected assertion of privilege regarding the Capitol riots protects no righteous prerogatives of the office — it would merely keep the public from its right to understand how those riots got so out of hand. Trump is covering his own backside and, against justifiable public interest, Meadows is helping him do it.
There is no legitimate excuse for Trump’s attempts to overturn duly certified presidential election results or to whip up the Jan. 6 crowd by yelling out lies that the election had been stolen. As more and more evidence emerges, including evidence described but not yet public in original form in the House panel’s “contempt” referral on Meadows, it becomes ever clearer that some in Trump-world actively promoted actions subversive of constitutional democracy itself.
With the caveat that the full context of the material isn’t known yet, it should disturb all of us that some people close to Trump, and possibly Trump himself, were even somewhat seriously discussing possible methods of blocking Congress from recognizing Joe Biden’s presidential victory.
One memo sent to Meadows (and fairly widely circulated) claimed that “the Chinese systematically gained control over our election system constituting a national security emergency,” which Trump should counter by “declar[ing] electronic voting in all states invalid.” Therefore, it said Vice President Mike Pence could choose one of three options to reject certified ballots that would otherwise give the victory to Biden while the “federalized National Guard” under Trump’s control would “secure” and recount paper ballots.
The phrase for that scheme is a direct, militarized coup d’état. It would have been a direct assault on the entire U.S. constitutional system.
Still, this must be said: While Meadows himself did pursue other legally cockamamie theories that might somehow have kept Trump in office, there is no evidence he took seriously this suggestion to use the National Guard to counteract a nonexistent Chinese infiltration. Nor is there enough context to justify today’s media freak-out about a separate Meadows memo suggesting the Guard be ready on Jan. 6 to “protect pro-Trump people.”
Anyone who has worked for public officials knows how often fabulists constituents send in crazy ideas. Mere receipt of such messages is no indication the receiver accepts their validity.
As for Meadows’s “protect pro-Trump people” idea, it could have been wholly legitimate. The memo was not sent after the Jan. 6 rally turned into a riot and incursion, but before — so it had nothing to do with asking the Guard to help those who stormed the Capitol. There was plenty of talk before the Jan. 6 rally that counterprotesters might violently confront the pro-Trumpers, and it would not have been at all untoward to consider, in advance, whether the Guard would be needed to keep the peace.
Meadows may have been misguided overall but not malicious.
Then again, this is all the more reason for Meadows to waive the absurd claims of “privilege” for both the documents in question and for his own testimony. The context of all of this is important, and full context must be provided and analyzed. On Jan. 6, hundreds of people, some of them quite violent, truly did try to halt one of the most important national civic ceremonies. Their goal, stoked by Trump, was to overturn Biden’s legitimate presidential victory. To guard against a similar future hideosity, Congress, on behalf of the public, has good reason to piece together exactly who did what, when, and why.
Meadows must understand it is our republic, not Trump, that needs protecting.