In a sudden reversal, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows will not cooperate with a House of Representatives committee investigating the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January, a lawyer for the former Trump aide said on Tuesday.
Meadows indicated last week that he would speak to the panel. But on the same day the Guardian broke news of Meadows’ memoir, The Chief’s Chief, in which he detailed Trump’s positive and negative Covid tests and their cover-up before his first debate with Joe Biden last year.
Trump gave Meadows a glowing blurb for his book but news of its contents kicked off a firestorm of controversy and prompted a backlash from the former presidenttowards Meadows.
On Tuesday, Maggie Haberman, a New York Times journalist, reported that “sources close to Trump say he hates Meadows book and feels betrayed by him”.
Haberman also wrote that Meadows’ “cooperation was always seen as bare minimum. The reality doesn’t change much but timing is notable.”
Meadows’ attorney, George Terwilliger, wrote in a letter on Tuesday that a deposition would be “untenable” because the 6 January select committee “has no intention of respecting boundaries” concerning questions that Trump has claimed are off-limits because of executive privilege.
Executive privilege covers the confidentiality or otherwise of communications between a president and his aides. The Biden administration has waived it in the investigation of 6 January. Trump and key allies entwined in events leading up to the storming of the Capitol, around which five people died, have invoked it.
Terwilliger also said he learned over the weekend that the committee had issued a subpoena to a third-party communications provider that he said would include “intensely personal” information.
In an interview on the conservative Fox News network, the attorney added: “We have made efforts over many weeks to reach an accommodation with the committee.”
But he said the committee’s approach to negotiations and to other witnesses meant Meadows would withdraw cooperation.
“The chairman of the committee [Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi] … publicly said that another witness’s claiming of the fifth amendment would be tantamount to an admission of guilt,” Terwilliger said, claiming that called into question “exactly what is going on with this committee”.
That was a reference to Jeffery Clark, a former justice department official who pitched a plan to Trump regarding overturning election results and who, like Meadows, has been threatened with a charge of contempt of Congress if he does not cooperate with the 6 January investigation.
Terwilliger wrote in his letter: “As a result of careful and deliberate consideration of these factors, we now must decline the opportunity to appear voluntarily for a deposition.”
Meadows has claimed executive privilege covers any communications with Trump that the committee may wish to examine.
In the aftermath of reports about his book – the Guardian being first to report that Meadows’ tries to downplay the Capitol riot as the work of “a handful of fanatics” – key members of the committee suggested that by publishing the memoir Meadows had waived any claim to executive privilege protections.
Adam Schiff of California told Politico it was “very possible that by discussing the events of 6 January in his book … [Meadows is] waiving any claim of privilege.
“So, it’d be very difficult for him to maintain ‘I can’t speak about events to you, but I can speak about them in my book.’”
Thompson, the committee chair, told reporters: “Some of what we plan to ask him is in the excerpts of the book.”
Meadows had been due to appear before the committee on 12 November but failed to show up. At the time, Thompson warned that “there is no valid legal basis for Mr Meadows’s continued resistance to the select committee’s subpoena”.
Another former Trump aide, former campaign chairman and White House strategist Steve Bannon, has been charged with criminal contempt of Congress, the first such charge since 1983. Facing a fine and jail time, he has pleaded not guilty.
Trump has attempted to stall much of the committee’s work, including in an ongoing court case, by arguing that Congress does not have the right to information about his private White House conversations.