By Annie Grayer, Zachary Cohen, Jamie Gangel and Ryan Nobles, CNN
Donald Trump’s former chief of staff Mark Meadows is cooperating with the House select committee investigating the January 6 riot and is providing records and agreeing to appear for an initial interview, CNN exclusively has learned.
The move represents a critical shift in the relationship between the top Trump ally and the panel, and staving off a criminal contempt referral for now.
“Mr. Meadows has been engaging with the Select Committee through his attorney,” Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi who chairs the committee said in a statement. “He has produced records to the committee and will soon appear for an initial deposition. The Select Committee expects all witnesses, including Mr. Meadows, to provide all information requested and that the Select Committee is lawfully entitled to receive. The Committee will continue to assess his degree of compliance with our subpoena after the deposition.”
Meadows’ lawyer George Terwilliger said in a statement to CNN that there is now an understanding between the two parties on how information can be exchanged moving forward, stating that his client and the committee are open to engaging on a certain set of topics as they work out how to deal with information that the committee is seeking that could fall under executive privilege.
But the agreement could be fragile if the two sides do not agree on what is privileged information. News of the understanding comes as Trump’s lawyers argued in front of a federal appeals court in Washington that the former President should be able to assert executive privilege over records from the committee.
“As we have from the beginning, we continue to work with the Select Committee and its staff to see if we can reach an accommodation that does not require Mr. Meadows to waive Executive Privilege or to forfeit the long-standing position that senior White House aides cannot be compelled to testify before Congress,” Terwilliger said. “We appreciate the Select Committee’s openness to receiving voluntary responses on non-privileged topics.”
The acknowledgment of the deal comes as multiple sources tell CNN that Meadows has shown a willingness to cooperate and has entered a new posture with the committee. The agreement is a significant step in the once stalled relationship that comes after months of back and forth between the two parties.
Even though Meadows has begun engaging with the committee in a more serious way, the extent to which he will fully cooperate and the question of what he will try to claim as executive privilege still hangs in the balance, according to multiple sources. The agreement means the committee will hold off from pursuing criminal contempt against him, though that route always remains a possibility as this fragile step forward could be temporary.
“It’s not incorrect to say he has cooperated to some extent, but he hasn’t completely fulfilled his obligation and we need to see what happens. But Meadows doesn’t want to be held in contempt,” a source familiar with the process tells CNN.
His engagement with the committee stands in stark contrast to Steve Bannon who is charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for failing to testify and turn over documents in response to a subpoena from the committee, and former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark who the committee will vote on a criminal contempt referral report on Wednesday.
“It is fair to say he is not Bannon, and he is not Clark … and he doesn’t want to be,” the source said. “But how much he is cooperating, and how much he will cooperate remains an open question. He has done some things … but he has not fulfilled all his obligations … and it is not entirely clear yet how much he will cooperate.”
“We can tell the difference between someone who is stalling or faking, we don’t think that’s what is going on here,” the source added.
In recent weeks, members of the panel have said that many of the questions they have for Meadows have nothing to do with Trump — suggesting that the panel is still open to discussing the terms of a potential interview.
Democratic Rep. Pete Aguilar, who serves on the panel, told CNN earlier this month that Meadows might have a “minor claim” to executive privilege over some conversations but emphasized the committee has questions for him that “have nothing to do with the conversations he had directly with the President.”
“His conversations about stopping a free and fair election, about criticizing and stopping the counting of electoral votes, about his coordination with campaign officials on private devices that were not turned over, all of those issues are not privilege worthy and he has some explaining to do,” the California Democrat added.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and another select committee member, also told CNN earlier this month that the committee has “lots of questions (for Meadows) that have nothing to do with Trump personally.”
But the question of how executive privilege looms over Meadows’ cooperation with the committee seems to have not prevented both parties from moving forward in their engagement, at least for now.
Members of the panel, including Thompson, had grown frustrated with Meadows in recent weeks for his lack of engagement. Meadows even defied his deposition in front of the committee on November 12, which suggested the next step was a showdown that could lead the panel to begin a criminal referral process against him.
Ahead of the scheduled deposition earlier this month, Terwilliger issued a statement saying his client would not cooperate with the committee until courts ruled on Trump’s claims of executive privilege, noting “a sharp legal dispute with the committee.”
But the tone seems to have shifted in recent days, and committee members have hinted that they will offer clarity on the situation with Meadows this week, perhaps as soon as Tuesday.
“I expect that there is going to be movement particularly on Mark Meadows that we’ll know about shortly, in the next day, next two days or so. And I think the people will be pleased with that,” Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger said Monday on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”
Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff said on CNN’s “State of the Union” that the committee will make a decision “this week” on whether it will refer Meadows for criminal contempt charges for defying the subpoena.
Ahead of the news that Meadows is now cooperating with the committee, Aguilar said on CNN on Saturday that “there’s still a small window in which (Meadows) can still comply here.”
“And so we’re keeping an eye on the calendar ahead this week and if Mr. Meadows does comply with the subpoena that he has been given, then we can prevent some of those steps,” Aguilar added, referring to the route of criminal contempt that the committee always has had as an option at their disposal.
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