A couple days ago, CNN published a strangely worded article which revealed that Mark Meadows had given the DOJ the same documents he’d previously given to the January 6th Committee. The article asserted that Meadows had met the obligations of the DOJ’s subpoena, while also asserting that Meadows would wage a court battle if the DOJ sought any more evidence from him.
We figured Meadows himself was likely the source for the article because it was written mostly from his point of view – including oddly specific details about his actions, his stances, and his assertions. Who else could have been the source? But why would Meadows give this story to the media? Did he indeed provide substantial cooperation against Trump, and he leaked this to get out of ahead of it so Trump would think he was still fighting to not reveal more to the DOJ? Did Meadows leak this because his cooperation was insufficient and had him on track for contempt charges, and he was hoping to get out ahead of that narrative?
Either way, we figured that within days, someone would use the media to push a counter narrative about Meadows. Sure enough, that’s now happened. The Washington Post is reporting today that back in late 2021, former White House Deputy Counsel Pat Philbin told the National Archives that Mark Meadows had told him that there were no classified documents at Mar-a-Lago and that they were instead just boxes of news clippings.
This new reporting obviously throws Meadows squarely under the bus. Even though Trump and his White House people were all out of office by then, it’s widely believed that Meadows was still acting as Trump’s de facto spokesman and consigliere. This would mean that Meadows lied to Philbin about classified evidence, prompting Philbin to unwittingly pass a lie on to the National Archives.
If this is how it really went down, then Philbin is off the hook. Philbin would merely be a material witness, and his only legal obligation would be to testify against those who manufactured that lie. It’s previously been reported that Philbin has indeed testified to a DOJ grand jury, so it appears he is off the hook. But Meadows is a different story.
If Meadows knew that there were classified documents at Mar-a-Lago when he told Philbin to tell the National Archives that there weren’t, then Meadows is guilty of felony obstruction. And if Meadows was just unwittingly passing along a lie that Trump told him, then Meadows is legally obligated to testify against Trump about this – and if Meadows refuses to, that’s a felony.
But the bigger question is who gave the media this story today, and how it relates to the assertion from days ago that Meadows fully cooperated with the DOJ subpoena. If the CNN report was Meadows attempting to publicly assert that he’d given the DOJ everything it wanted from him, then this WaPo report could be investigators’ way of correcting the record by making clear that Meadows owes them grand jury testimony.
In any case Mark Meadows is still the guy caught most firmly in the middle of all this. Given the number and severity of crimes he’s known to have committed in Trump’s name, Meadows is likely looking at going to prison for the rest of his life unless he fully cooperates.
Instead Meadows still appears to be trying to only partially flip on Trump, in the hope of keeping both the DOJ and Trump off his back. What Meadows perhaps doesn’t realize is that if you attempt a partial flip, you just land on your own head. Meadows can make all of this go away simply by cutting a full cooperation deal with the DOJ. Given how valuable a witness he is, he might even be able to get immunity if his cooperation ends up fully taking Trump down. But will Meadows wise up enough to do that? Or will he continue to be the guy who’s stuck in the middle of all this and gets crushed?
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report