On Tuesday we all learned that former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows has changed his mind and has begun cooperating with the January 6th Committee. This made clear whatever loyalty Meadows might have toward Trump these days, he’s not willing to go to prison to protect him. There were reports that Meadows might still try to invoke executive privilege when it comes to certain things that he and Trump discussed. So why would Meadows do this?
Then on Wednesday we all learned that Meadows is releasing a new book next week, in which he claims that Trump tested positive for COVID just before a 2020 debate with Joe Biden. This makes clear that Meadows is willing to reveal politically damaging secrets about Trump in order to sell copies of his book. Given that Trump is firing back at Meadows in angry fashion, there doesn’t appear to be any remaining relationship there.
It also seems to suggest that if Meadows is planning to try to invoke any degree of privilege, it’s not to protect Trump. Keep in mind that it’s previously been reported that Meadows personally got involved in trying to pressure Georgia officials to overturn the 2020 election results. It’s also previously been reported that Fulton County Georgia District Attorney Fani Willis is investigating Meadows’ actions in relation to Trump’s election tampering; she recently empaneled a special grand jury in order to move the criminal probe forward.
So if Meadows is trying to protect anyone by attempting to invoke privilege, he’s most likely just trying to protect himself. In such case Meadows is stuck trying to thread the narrowest of needles. He has to give the January 6th Committee an overwhelming amount of overall cooperation so they won’t ring him up for contempt, while also trying to avoid giving up anything that specifically incriminates himself and can be used by the Fulton County DA.
To be clear, Meadows cannot get away with invoking privilege when it comes to the January 6th Committee. Steve Bannon tried to use privilege as an excuse not to cooperate at all, and the DOJ showed its position on that when it indicted and arrested him. Jeffrey Clark tried the trick of showing up and testifying, but invoking privilege in response to certain questions, and the committee showed how it felt about that by putting contempt charges in motion against Clark as well.
So the committee isn’t going to let Mark Meadows get away with invoking privilege on anything. Meadows has to know this. He did try not cooperating at all, in the feeble hope that the committee wouldn’t ring him up for contempt. But once he saw that wasn’t going to work, he began cooperating. Once the committee makes clear to Meadows that his feeble plan of invoking imaginary privilege won’t work, he’ll have to back down from that as well. And since he’s made clear he doesn’t want to go to prison, he won’t just let himself get indicted at this point, will he?
Once the privilege gambit fails, Meadows can invoke the Fifth Amendment in response to the specific questions in which he feels that his answers could be used against him by prosecutors. As long as this is done in good faith, and Meadows doesn’t try to use it to avoid answering questions that obviously couldn’t incriminate him, the committee would have to let him do it.
But pleading the fifth comes with its own difficulties. While it is not legally seen as an admission of guilt, Meadows would be drawing a roadmap for prosecutors based on the specific questions that prompted him to plead the fifth. Moreover, if Meadows pleads the fifth in response to questions about things that he and Trump did, much of the general public would take this as a sign that he and Trump must be guilty of something. In fact if Meadows ends up pleading the fifth to any degree, it’ll be a huge win for the committee. They’ll have gotten Trump’s right hand man to admit that he fears he and Trump could end up criminally prosecuted for their actions in relation to the 2020 election.
That’s all getting a step or two ahead of where we are today. But even as of now, it’s clear that Mark Meadows is willing to cooperate as much as necessary in order to try to keep himself out of prison, and it’s clear that Meadows is willing to make Trump look bad in order to sell his book. This suggests that Meadows is willing to give up Trump to investigators, to whatever extent Meadows doesn’t incriminate himself in the process.
None of this is great for Meadows, who is left trying to walk a perilous tightrope of keeping himself from being criminally indicted for contempt on a federal level, while also trying to keep himself from being criminally indicted for election tampering on a state level. If that’s ugly for Meadows, it’s worse for Trump, because Meadows’ book suggests that Meadows’ level of personal loyalty to Trump isn’t nearly what we’d all been led to believe.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report