Earlier this year, Donald Trump sent some of his lawyers and political advisers on a “small fact-finding mission,” as a person with knowledge of the matter describes it to Rolling Stone. The former president wanted to know, according to that source and another person close to Trump: “What is Mark doing?”
Trump was referring to his former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows. Justice Department investigators and Special Counsel Jack Smith’s office had been keen on questioning Meadows under oath about Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and to hoard government documents. And it’s been an ongoing mystery to Trump and his team how much Meadows has given the feds, and whether or not he’s actually cooperating. Months ago, Meadows and his lawyer severed communications with most of Trumpland, in a move that continues to frustrate people working to keep the now twice–indicted former president out of deeper legal peril.
The Trump attorneys and advisers who went looking for answers returned with bad news for Trump: They couldn’t figure out what was going on, leaving them to repeat rumors and speculation.
Meadows, his lawyer, and Trump’s spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment from Rolling Stone.
Meadows’ team is keeping quiet. Early this month, The New York Times revealed that Meadows had indeed testified before the grand jury, but scant details have been unearthed about what he discussed or to which specific topics his testimony was related. And Meadows’ lawyer George Terwilliger this month offered only vagueness: “Without commenting on whether or not Mr. Meadows has testified before the grand jury or in any other proceeding, Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so.”
That cryptic statement did not sit well with much of Trumpworld. In recent weeks, several lawyers and confidants had already discussed their unconfirmed suspicions with Trump that Meadows was being very useful to the feds in order to reduce Meadows’ own possible legal exposure, two other people familiar with the matter say. Both sources independently tell Rolling Stone that when the topic has come up within the past several months, Trump has at times said that he doesn’t know what Meadows is doing, adding that it would be a “shame” if the MAGAland rumors were true.
In the days since Terwilliger’s brief statement to media outlets, some of Trump’s longtime allies and close advisers have taken to sardonically referring to Meadows by using the rat emoji in their private conversations, according to a source with knowledge of the situation and a screenshot reviewed by Rolling Stone.
However, others in Trump’s immediate orbit have recently sought to reassure him that, for now at least, he should not read too much into Meadows’ silence, two people with direct knowledge of the matter say. Despite all the rumors that have been flying, these individuals have told Trump that there is no hard evidence yet that Meadows is formally cooperating, and that he could simply be following lawyers’ advice to keep a low profile, answering the feds’ questions when he has to until the special counsel investigation runs its course.
Unfortunately for Meadows and other witnesses, Trump has for years often seen little difference between a witness having an official cooperation agreement with prosecutors, and someone who is legally required to answer questions and in doing so offers up potentially damning information to the authorities, according to sources who’ve spoken to Trump about federal probes and other investigations over the decades. Indeed, Trump was furious over the degree of detail in the notes made by his own attorney, Evan Corcoran, which have since become very useful for prosecutors in this case.
The current state of Meadows’ relationship to Trump and his inner orbit is a dramatic turn away from early on in Trump’s post-presidency. Following the wave of scandal and violence stemming from Trump’s attempt to cling to power after the 2020 election, Meadows mostly stayed in the former president’s good graces. At that stage, Meadows even privately said it was likely Trump would offer him a senior role headed into the next presidential contest — perhaps even as chairman of Trump’s 2024 campaign, according to a source with direct knowledge of the matter.
That never happened — and the once close relationship between Trump and Meadows started to fray, in a number of different ways, beginning in late 2021.
By the summer of 2022, it became clear to Meadows and his associates that some of Trump’s own lawyers and top advisers were trying to set up Meadows as a fall guy, as the Jan. 6-related investigations intensified. According to a source who knows both Meadows and Trump, this had the unintended consequence of causing Meadows and his legal advisers to “take a more skeptical approach, not necessarily towards the [former] president, but towards some of the people around him.”
And then there was the issue of Meadows’ memoir, which, when released at the end of 2021, was aimed at making Trump look good. It backfired spectacularly.Meadows’ The Chief’s Chief — a 330-page love letter to Trump — has so far resulted in three major instances of public-relations damage or serious legal problems for former President Trump.
The book has repeatedly infuriated key Trumpland figures, including Trump himself, since publication, three people with knowledge of the situation say.
“How many times can Mark fucking put the [former] president in a bind because of that book…[that basically] no one read?” a senior Trump aide said last week, the day of the ex-president’s second arrest of the year. (The book sold a disappointing 22,000 copies in its first few months of publication.)
The latest example of Meadows’ book causing trouble for Trump came earlier this month, as the unsealed federal Trump indictment underscored how much Meadows’ book-writing process provided the feds and special counsel with fodder to argue that Trump mishandled classified material that he was not supposed to possess and show off in his post-presidency.
In a recording of Trump speaking with two assistants who were helping Meadows write his memoir, the former president effectively confesses to knowingly keeping classified war plans, as CNN first reported. Referring to an unnamed U.S. military “plan of attack” prosecutors accused him of showing to the two individuals, Trump can allegedly be heard saying “As president I could have declassified it” but that “Now I can’t, you know, but this is still a secret.”
The comments, featured prominently atop the special counsel’s indictment, represent some of the most damning evidence revealed in the documents case yet.
However, the source who knows both Meadows and Trump says any annoyance about this matter from Trump and others is “unfair,” given that the feds obtained audio that Trump himself knowingly created while aiding Meadows’ writing.
Still, in years past, Meadows’ memoir also caused outrage when it revealed Trump engineered a secret cover-up of his COVID-19 infection, potentially putting numerous people — including his 2020 opponent Joe Biden — in danger.
The book also nearly jeopardized Trump’s claims of executive privilege in the effort to stonewall the January 6 House committee.
It wasn’t meant to work out this way. “He thought Trump was going to love it,” a knowledgeable source told The Daily Beast in 2021, of Meadows’ hopes for the memoir when it was still in the works.
But The Chief’s Chief enraged Trump even before it was released and landed Meadows in immediate, temporary exile from his former boss. An early excerpt run by The Guardian showed that Trump had tested positive for the coronavirus a week before the White House officially acknowledged he had contracted it. The revelation showed that Trump and the White House had covered up the potential early diagnosis shortly before the former president’s debate with Joe Biden, endangering staff, the audience, and his opponent.
Behind the scenes, Trump called Meadows “fucking stupid” in late 2021 for disclosing the details in his book and Meadows was left to try to distance himself from his own book, calling reporting about it “fake news” on MAGA cable networks.
The Chief’s Chief may have also hurt Trump’s ability to stonewall the January 6 Committee, in addition to revealing the Trump White House’s stonewalling about COVID.
Like a number of witnesses called before the committee, Meadows argued that executive privilege — the doctrine that presidents are entitled to confidential advice in making decisions — prevented him from being able to share information about his discussions with Trump in the period after the 2020 election. But Meadows’ own book, which shared page after page of information about his conversations with Trump, briefly jeopardized the claim.
When the former chief of staff sued the committee to block a subpoena, lawyers for the panel noted that “Mr. Meadows has published a book addressing a number of these issues and has spoken about them publicly on several occasions,” claiming that those acts represented a waiver of privilege.
A judge ultimately dismissed the case and Meadows later agreed to provide documents and text messages to the committee while withholding others on the grounds of executive privilege.
Source link: https://www.rollingstone.com/politics/politics-features/donald-trump-indictment-mark-meadows-jack-smith-1234774363/