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(Bloomberg) -- Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows won’t be indicted for defying subpoenas by the special congressional committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, a major blow to the panel as it seeks cooperation of associates of former President Donald Trump.
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The Justice Department sent the Jan. 6 committee a letter notifying it that Meadows and Dan Scavino, Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, won’t be indicted for contempt because they have been cooperating, according to a person familiar with the matter who asked to remain anonymous speaking about a non public matter.
Meadows became the highest-ranking former Trump official to face legal jeopardy tied to the investigation into efforts to stop the certification of Joe Biden as president. The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives made a criminal referral to the Justice Department in December in response to Meadows’s lack of cooperation. The House issued a criminal referral against Scavino in April.
Former Trump advisers Steve Bannon and Peter Navarro were previously indicted by the department for criminal contempt for refusing to testify to the special House committee investigating the Capitol riot. Bannon awaits trial in July. Navarro, the former White House trade adviser, was indicted June 3.
The criminal referrals have posed a major test for Attorney General Merrick Garland, who has pledged to defend the rule of law while trying to keep the Justice Department independent and insulated from politics.
But the decision not to indict Meadows and Scavino is being questioned by the Jan. 6 committee.
“While today’s indictment of Peter Navarro was the correct decision by the Justice Department, we find the decision to reward Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino for their continued attack on the rule of law puzzling,” Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, a Republican from Wyoming, said in a statement Friday. “We hope the Department provides greater clarity on this matter.”
Meadows had given the committee thousands of documents, including texts and emails he received before, during and after the Capitol riot, as well as other records he deemed non-privileged that committee officials say number in the thousands. But he refused to testify, citing executive privilege over his communications with Trump, and filed a lawsuit to block the committee’s subpoenas.
Committee members dismissed Meadows’ legal argument as a mere distraction and have asked a judge to throw out the lawsuit, saying he acted in a non-government capacity with regard to post-election campaign efforts. They also said he voided any executive privilege when he turned over the documents and wrote about some of the events in a book.
The decision not to indict Meadows and Scavino was first reported by The New York Times.
Scavino’s lawyer, Stanley Brand, said in an email to Bloomberg that “we are grateful DOJ exercised its sound discretion to decline prosecution in this case which involved substantial and complex legal issues undermining the validity of the committee’s subpoena.”
Meadows’s lawyer didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, made after regular business hours.
Republicans have denounced what they call overreach by Democrats.
“I hope the American people are paying close attention,” Representative Jim Banks of Indiana said when the House voted to hold Meadows in criminal contempt in December. “I hope they see what happens when Democrats get total power. They abuse it. They intimidate, they threaten, and they harass. They try to jail their political opponents.”
The Justice Department decision comes as the committee is now deciding how to respond to resistance from five House Republicans who also have been subpoenaed to testify -- including GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy.
(Updates with Scavino’s lawyer’s comment)
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