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Former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows will appear before the Jan. 6 panel

NOEL KING, HOST:

Mark Meadows, who was the White House chief of staff to former President Trump, has agreed to cooperate with the House committee that's investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas is following this one. Hey, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: So what does cooperation look like for Mark Meadows?

LUCAS: Well, the committee and Meadows' lawyers say that after weeks and weeks of going back and forth, that they have reached an initial agreement for Meadows' cooperation. The chairman of the January 6 committee, Democrat Bennie Thompson, says Meadows has turned over documents and is going to sit down soon with the panel for an initial deposition. A committee source says that's expected to take place next week. Now, this is all notable because, remember, Meadows initially was supposed to sit down for an interview with the panel a few weeks ago, but he didn't show up. He said he's covered by Trump's assertion of executive privilege. The committee said that that was unacceptable. It threatened to hold Meadows in contempt and possibly refer him to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, as it did with Trump's former strategist, Steve Bannon, who has been indicted already for contempt. This initial cooperation agreement averts that for now for Meadows, but only for now.

KING: Why just for now?

LUCAS: Well, Thompson says the committee expects witnesses to provide all of the information that the committee requests and is entitled to under the law. And he says the panel is going to see how cooperative Meadows is and will assess after his deposition the extent to which Meadows has actually complied with the committee's subpoena. And that's interesting because Meadows has based his objections to cooperating with the committee on Trump's claims of executive privilege, as I said. Meadows' attorney, George Terwilliger, says they continue to work with the committee to see if they can find a way to cooperate without waiving that. And he says they appreciate the committee's openness to receiving voluntary responses on non-privileged topics. But that leaves open the possibility that in his deposition, Meadows could refuse to answer supersensitive questions - for example, the panel's questions about sensitive conversations that Meadows had with Trump in and around January 6.

KING: OK. Given all those caveats, is this really, then, a step forward for this whole investigation?

LUCAS: Committee members say that getting Meadows' agreement is a step forward, yes. How significant of a step it is, though, well, that remains to be seen. The committee has already interviewed nearly 250 witnesses. Many of them, of course, are not high-profile folks like Meadows. With some former senior Trump officials, the committee has run into a significant amount of resistance. Bannon, as I said earlier, has refused to cooperate. Like Meadows, he cited executive privilege. Critically, though, unlike Meadows, Bannon was not in the Trump administration on January 6, of course. Bannon now is facing federal charges for defying the committee subpoena.

The committee may take a similar step with former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark. Clark appeared for a deposition last month before the committee but refused to answer questions. Today, the committee is scheduled to vote on holding Clark in criminal contempt of Congress. If that passes, it would open the door for the House to refer Clark to the Justice Department for possible prosecution.

KING: OK. Meantime, Trump sued to try to stop that committee from getting some of his White House records, and that case was in court yesterday. What happened there?

LUCAS: Right. A lower court ruled earlier this month that the committee could get the records Trump appealed. Yesterday, a three-judge panel heard more than 3 1/2 hours of arguments from Trump's attorneys, as well as attorneys for the House of Representatives. Judge peppered them with questions. We didn't get a ruling, but the court did recognize how time sensitive this is.

KING: OK. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Noel King
Noel King is a host of Morning Edition and Up First.
Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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