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Op-ed

Bill Press: Throw the book at Mark Meadows | GUEST COMMENTARY

Now that the House has voted to hold former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows in contempt for refusing to appear before the Jan. 6 Select Committee, Washington insiders are gripped in a typical, inside-the-Beltway dilemma: whether or not the Justice Department should file criminal charges against him. After all, unlike Steve Bannon, Mr. Meadows was a member of the executive branch and can therefore claim “executive privilege.”

Are you kidding? Of course, the DOJ should file criminal charges against Mr. Meadows, just like they did against Mr. Bannon. It doesn’t matter where Mr. Meadows worked. White House aides aren’t above the law. Refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena is a crime. Interfering with an election is a crime. Attempting to overthrow the government is a crime. And there’s substantial evidence that Mr. Meadows is guilty of all three.

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The more we learn about his involvement in the events between Nov. 3, 2020, and Jan. 6, 2021, the clearer it is that Mr. Meadows was more than Donald Trump’s chief of staff. He was Mr. Trump’s enabler-in-chief. After Donald Trump himself, Mark Meadows was most responsible for the greatest assault on our democracy since the Civil War.

Any doubts that Mr. Meadows played a central role in the Jan. 6 insurrection vanished when Rep. Liz Cheney, co-chair of the Select Committee, read aloud frantic texts sent to Mr. Meadows while the violent attack on the U.S. Capitol was underway: texts from members of the president’s family, Members of Congress and anchors on Fox News — pleading for Mr. Meadows to persuade Mr. Trump to call off the armed mob. And what did Mr. Meadows do? Nothing.

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Actually, Mr. Meadows’s role in efforts to overturn the 2020 election started long before that. It was Mr. Meadows who initiated and joined in the Jan. 2 phone call to Georgia’s Brad Raffensperger in which Mr. Trump demanded that the secretary of state “find 11,780 votes.” And, as has been duly reported, rather than serve as a watchdog, dismissing a pile of nutty conspiracy theories flooding the White House, Mr. Meadows took every one of them seriously, convinced Mr. Trump to take them seriously, and pressured administration officials to investigate them and take action.

In his book “Betrayal,” for example, ABC’s Jonathan Karl reveals a particularly wacky theory — which became known as #ItalyGate — that military satellites in Italy were being deployed by two Italian prisoners to rig voting machines in the United States. As Mr. Karl reports, it was “a crazy QAnon conspiracy theory,” which should have been laughed at, yet COS Mr. Meadows asked both Acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and Acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller to investigate the nonsense.

Karl was also the first to report Mr. Meadows’s role in pressuring Vice President Mike Pence to reject the Electoral College count on Jan. 6. In what is now an infamous memo, Trump campaign lawyer Jenna Ellis argued that because there had been (baseless) challenges to election results in six states — Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Nevada, and Wisconsin — Pence could rule that electoral votes from those states not be counted, thereby throwing the election to Mr. Trump. Again, rather than doing his job and dismissing the memo as blatantly unconstitutional, Mr. Meadows sent it to Pence with the implied message: This is what the president wants you to do.

The Washington Post’s Carol Leonnig and Phil Rucker, in their book “I Alone Can Fix It,” also document Mr. Meadows’ willingness to feed Mr. Trump bogus theories of election fraud. On one occasion, he told Mr. Trump he’d learned that tens of thousands of “illegal aliens” had voted in Arizona. Mr. Trump blew up and ordered a full investigation — which turned up nothing. The so-called “illegal aliens” were actually U.S. citizens living overseas who had cast legal ballots.

Every step of the way, in his efforts to overturn the 2020 election — from filing 65 frivolous lawsuits, to spreading false election theories, to putting the squeeze on state election officials, to pressuring Mike Pence, to inviting his supporters to Washington, to stirring up the mob on the morning of Jan. 6, to standing by and doing nothing while they were attacking the Capitol — Mr. Meadows was by Mr. Trump’s side, encouraging him and enabling him.

Charge Mark Meadows with a crime? For Attorney General Merrick Garland, this should be a no-brainer. It’s not enough to go after the foot soldiers who assaulted the Capitol on Jan. 6. It’s important to hold responsible those who planned and inspired the attack, starting with Donald Trump and Mark Meadows. It’s a disgrace that Garland hasn’t already filed criminal charges against both.

Bill Press (bill@billpress.com) is host of The BillPressPod, and author of the new book, “Trump Must Go: The Top 100 Reasons to Dump Trump (And One to Keep Him).”


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