How Mark Meadows pursued a high-wire legal strategy in Trump investigations (2023)



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The former White House chief of staff, a star witness in Donald J. Trump's attempts to stay in power after his 2020 election loss, maneuvered to give federal prosecutors only what he needed.

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How Mark Meadows pursued a high-wire legal strategy in Trump investigations (1)

DoorJonathan Swan,Alan Fire,Lucas BroadwaterInMaggie Haberman

This winter, after receiving a subpoena from a grand jury investigating former President Donald J. Trump's attempt to overturn the 2020 election, Mark Meadows began a delicate dance with federal prosecutors.

He had no choice but to appear and eventually testify. Still, Mr. Weiden - Mr. Trump's last White House chief of staff — initially to answer certain questions, sticking to his former boss's position that they were protected by executive privilege.

But when prosecutors from the Special Prosecutor, Jack Smith, Mr. Trump's demand for executive privilege before a judge caused Mr. Meadows. Although he risked Mr. Trump was furious and decided Mr. Smith's team, according to a person familiar with the case. Mr. Meadows quietly arranged a meeting with them not only about the steps the former president had taken to stay in office, but also about his handling of classified documents after he left.

The episode illustrated the careful steps Mr. Meadows attempted to face legal and political threats as prosecutors in Washington and Georgia probed Mr. John. Trump and sought to avoid indictment himself, while also dodging the career risk of collaborating with what his Republican allies had portrayed as a partisan pursuit of the former president.

His complicated legal action presented a new challenge this month. While Mr. Meadow's strategy of targeted aid to federal prosecutors and sphinx-like public silence largely kept him out of the 45-page indictment of election interference that Mr. Smith went against Mr. Trump in Washington didn't help him avoid similar charges in Fulton County, Georgia. Mr. Meadows was named last week as one of Mr. Trump's co-conspirators in a comprehensive racketeering suit filed by the local Georgia district attorney.

Interviews and a case review show how Mr. To some extent, Meadows' tactics reflected his tendency to avoid conflict and trick different people into thinking he agreed with them. They were also dictated by his unique position in the role of Mr. Trump's world and the legal danger it entails.

Mr. Meadows was Mr. Trump's best assistantin his chaotic final months in the White Houseand a firsthand witness not only to the president's extensive efforts to overturn the 2020 election, but also to some early parts of what evolved into an investigation into Mr. S. Trump's misuse of classified documents.

Mr. Meadows was there when Mr. Trump has heeded pleas from outside allies that he would use the machinery of government to seize voting machines and restart the election. And he was on the phone when Trump tried to pressure Georgia's secretary of state to find enough votes for him to win that state.

He was also there on January 6, 2021, when Mr. Trump sat in a small room next to the Oval Office watching television as a mob of his supporters tried to thwart the peaceful transfer of power.


Mr. Meadows, who declined to comment on this article, has declined to discuss his involvement in any of the criminal cases. The full extent of what he shared with federal prosecutors remains closely guarded, as do the circumstances under which he spoke to them. But his approach to dealing with these issues couldn't have been more different from Trump's.

While the former president has repeatedly spoken out about witch hunts and the weaponization of the justice system, Mr. Meadows kept quiet, stayed off the television and refused to call his former boss. Mr. Trump lashed out at the investigators and attacked them at every opportunity, but Mr. Meadows tried to build relationships whenever and wherever he could.

All this has made Mr. Meadows is a figure of intense speculation and fear in the former president's inner circle. The feverish assumption among Trump's allies was revived this weekendThat was revealed by ABC Newssome of the first details about what Mr. Meadows told federal prosecutors.

ABC reported that Mr. Meadows — like other senior Trump officials, including Mike Pence, the former vice president — had undermined the rule. Trump's claim that he had a "standing order" to automatically release all documents pulled from the Oval Office. These include those who ended up at his private clubs in Florida and New Jersey.

Mr. Meadows' conversations with investigators didn't surprise some on the Trump team. For several months now, Mr. Trump, his advisers and his allies are deeply suspicious of Mr. Trump. Meadows. But recently receiveddiscovery material from Mr. Smith's team— evidence prosecutors gathered during the investigation — the Trump team now has insight into what Mr. Meadows told investigators, according to people familiar with the case.

“This witch hunt is nothing more than a desperate attempt to interfere in the 2024 election when President Trump is dominating the polls and is the only person who will take back the White House,” said Steven Cheung, a spokesman for the president. Trump.

Mr. Meadows' attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, declined to comment on the facts presented in the ABC story.

Mr. Meadows' plan to quietly cooperate with prosecutors without agreeing to a formal settlement was by no means a new strategy. This is what many investigators do when faced with serious allegations. But in this case, the stakes are particularly high for both Mr. Meadows and Mr. Trump.

Mr. Meadows' goal was to provide investigators with the information they requested because he believed he had a legal obligation to provide it. But he also used the law to push back when he deemed the requests inappropriate or potentially dangerous to his own interests, the person familiar with his legal plan said.

The strategy began to take shape almost two years ago when Mr. Meadows agreed to provide some documents to the House of Representatives committee investigating the January 6 attack, but fought the attempt to impeach him.


In one case, when Mr. On a subpoena from the House Committee on Documents and Testimony, Meadows provided them with an explosive stream of text messages dating back to January 6. The reports showed that Mr. Meadows, who communicated with everyone from Fox News hosts to Virginia Thomas, the wife of Judge Clarence Thomas. They were embarrassing to both him and Mr. Trump.

But mr. Terwilliger determined that since the messages were unrelated to Mr. Meadows' communications with the president were not protected by executive privilege.

The texts were invaluable to the committee's staff and provided the researchers with a roadmap for the players and the actions they had taken when they began their work. The decision to give them to the House panel enraged Trump's team. But they also bought Mr. Meadows.

Mr. Terwilliger had a different view of Mr. Meadows, who testified before the committee. First, he told the panel staff that they could not legally compel Mr. J. to cooperate. Meadows to do so, and that even if they succeeded in bringing him into the public eye, he would claim executive privileges over everything related to his dealings with the gentleman. Trump. The negotiations about the interview failed when the committee mr. Meadows' phone records without notifying him first.

However, there was another reason why Mr. Terwilliger was concerned about getting Mr. Meadows to tell his story to the House of Representatives committee, said the person familiar with Mr. Meadows' legal plan.

Even in early 2022, the person said, Mr Terwilliger suspected that Mr Meadows would be asked to tell the Department of Justice what he knew about January 6 and the weeks leading up to it. And he didn't want Mr. Meadows already knew what he thought it would be a politicized investigation. If Mr. Meadows had to tell his story, the person said, that Mr. Terwilliger wanted him to do it for the first time against investigators from the Ministry of Justice.

It was at that time that the panel recommended that Mr. Meadows was charged with contempt of Congress, a position the full House eventually agreed with, but the Justice Department declined to press charges, citing the "individual facts and circumstances" of his case.

While department officials have never fully explained why they are not behind Mr. Meadows contradicted this move with how they handled similar cases involving two other former Trump aides, Stephen K. Bannon and Peter Navarro. Both were charged with contempt of Congress by the Department after flatly refusing to address the committee.

Mr. Meadows took a similar course when he was subpoenaed this winter by the federal grand jury in Washington investigating the murder of Mr. Trump's attempt to overturn the election. The former president had insisted that his aides were not allowed to testify on matters falling under executive privilege.

When Mr. Meadows' first appearance before the grand jury gave limited testimony and declined to answer questions that he said were protected by executive privilege, which protects all communications between the president and members of his administration.

But he was forced to open up to prosecutors after they asked then Washington Chief Justice Beryl A. Howell to rule on the issue of executive privilege in an effort to enforce his full accountability.

At the time, the person familiar with the legal strategy said that Mr. Meadows - unlike Mr. Trump – concluded that the top prosecutors in the Office of the Special Counsel were engaged in good faith gathering and analysis of facts. on the House. The person trusted the process and said Mr. Meadows would try to position himself as a neutral witness—one who was neither pro- or anti-Trump.

“George believes witnesses are not owned by anyone,” said another person who has worked closely with Mr. willing. “They are not there for one person; they are not against anyone; they are not on one person's side. They are there to tell the truth.”

When people have such conversations with prosecutors, they are usually granted limited immunity, preventing their own words from being used against them in future prosecutions. But investigators can use the information they provide to press charges against others.

Finally, Judge Howell issued an order allowing Mr. Meadows to go back to the grand jury. He answered the questions a second time and gave an unvarnished, unbiased account.

The federal charges against Mr. Trump contains a mix of stories about Mr. Meadow's behavior, some of which are beneficial to him. He is cited for pushing the fraudulent election scheme forward by emailing campaign operatives saying, "We just need someone to coordinate voters for states."

But federal prosecutors also noted in the indictment that Mr. Meadows, after observing Georgia's signature verification process, told the former president that election officials "behaved in an exemplary manner." He also urged Trump to ask the rebels to leave the Capitol on January 6.

On the contrary, Meadows believeseffort foughtto force him to testify in the separate Georgia case that examined Mr Trump's attempt to stay in office after his election loss. He also invoked his right to avoid self-incrimination when he finally appeared before the grand jury.

The indictment resulting from the Georgia investigation places heavy blame on Mr. The feet of the meadow. It portrays him as a willing accomplice in efforts to undermine the 2020 election, meeting with state officials, requesting phone numbers for the lord. Trump and order comments on strategies to keep him in power.


Prosecutors in Georgia have also charged Mr. Meadows on a felony charge for his role in ainfamous phone callson January 2, 2021, when Trump urged the Georgian Secretary of State to “find 11,780 votes.”

In a sign that he sees the federal location as more favorable territory, Mr. Meadows asked that the charges against him be taken to federal court in Georgia. In court documents filed last week, Mr. Willing that he intended to challenge the matter by stating that Mr. Meadows was immune from prosecution on state charges for actions he took as part of his federal position as White House Chief of Staff.

Mr. Meadows, who now lives in South Carolina, remains an influential backroom figure in Washington conservative circles. He is a senior partner at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where he receives approximately $560,000 annually, according to the organization's latest financial report.

In July 2021, a few weeks after the House voted to create the committee on January 6, the Political Action Committee joined Mr. Trump, Save America, $1 million to the institution.

Jonathan Swanis a political reporter focusing on campaigns and conventions. As a reporter for Axios, he won an Emmy Award for his 2020 interview with then-President Donald J. Trump and the Aldo Beckman Award from the White House Correspondents' Association for "outstanding excellence in reporting on the White House" in 2022. I'm Jonathan Swan

Alan Fireincludes extremism and political violence. In 1999 he joined The Times. More about Alan Feuer

Lucas Broadwatercovers Congress. He was the lead reporter on a series of investigative stories in The Baltimore Sun, which won a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award in 2020. Only from Luke Broadwater

Maggie Habermanis a senior political correspondent and author of Confidence Man: The Making of Donald Trump and the Breaking of America. She was part of a team that won a Pulitzer Prize in 2018 for her coverage of President Trump's advisers and their ties to Russia. Only from Maggie Haberman

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