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Possible charges are the latest chapter in Mark Meadows' career defined by conflict

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Former Congressman Mark Meadows served as President Trump's chief of staff - gatekeeper to the Oval Office, including on January 6. Meadows has offered the most stunning revelations yet in the congressional investigation into the insurrection. He now faces possible prosecution for abruptly cutting off his cooperation. For Meadows, it is the latest chapter in a career defined by conflict in Washington. NPR's Juana Summers reports.

JUANA SUMMERS, BYLINE: A door opened for Mark Meadows in 2011. A western North Carolina congressional district held by a Democrat was redrawn to become deeply red.

(SOUNDBITE OF POLITICAL AD)

MARK MEADOWS: As a conservative Christian businessman, I understand what Barack Obama does not - high taxes and out-of-control regulations shut down business, put people out of work and hurt families.

SUMMERS: Chris Cooper is a political science professor at Western Carolina University.

CHRIS COOPER: You know, he talked about taking down Obamacare. He talked about returning education back to, you know, local people. I mean, these were not - they were conservative positions, but they weren't radical positions.

SUMMERS: In Washington, Meadows quickly showed that he was willing to be a disruptor. In 2013, he helped force a government shutdown in an unsuccessful attempt to defund the Affordable Care Act. He was also among the conservatives that founded the House Freedom Caucus, which pushed practically total opposition to then-President Obama. Meadows was also ready to challenge his own party's leaders frequently. In 2015, he tapped into conservative discontent with Republican Speaker John Boehner. He filed a motion to remove Boehner from his job.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEADOWS: If my voting card is really only allowed to vote the way that the leadership tells me that I can vote, and if I don't vote that way, then I get either punished or, you know, I've failed to get bills heard, then it's just an illusion of a democracy and a representative form of government.

SUMMERS: That was Meadows talking to right-wing radio host Mark Levin in July 2015. About two months later, Boehner announced his resignation. Things were not much better for Speaker Paul Ryan. Meadows put himself and the Freedom Caucus at the center of nearly every major legislative debate. Here's Cooper again.

COOPER: Mark Meadows took a path to power through the media. Mark Meadows took a path to power kind of working from the outside of the institution through the Freedom Caucus and frankly through the press.

SUMMERS: Meadows didn't support Trump at first like many ideological conservatives, but he ultimately became one of the president's most loyal and powerful congressional allies. Meadows left Congress to join the White House as Trump's fourth chief of staff overseeing the West Wing starting in the spring of 2020 as the pandemic took hold.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MEADOWS: All of you know, the president and the first lady tested positive for COVID-19.

SUMMERS: Meadows released a new book this month revealing new details about when the former president tested positive for coronavirus and Trump's medical condition then. Trump called Meadows' account fake news. The book came out within days of Meadows initially agreeing to cooperate with the House January 6 committee. Soon after, Meadows stopped cooperating. The House voted to refer him for criminal contempt of Congress charges. Meadows did not respond to a request for comment. Brendan Buck worked for both former speakers Boehner and Ryan. He says Meadows botched his book rollout.

BRENDAN BUCK: He gets turned on, and Trump starts coming after him. He needs to get back in his good graces so he stops participating.

SUMMERS: But Meadows had already turned over thousands of pages of emails and text messages. They revealed the panic consuming some members of Trump's inner circle on January 6. Alyssa Farah Griffin was White House communications director. She'd left before January 6. But that day, she texted Meadows that if someone didn't say something, people would die. She now works at CNN.

ALYSSA FARAH GRIFFIN: I will never stop believing that anyone who had a platform that day had an obligation to use it. So even if, you know, Meadows had hundreds of thousands of Twitter followers, his voice would have rang very important to people on Capitol Hill.

SUMMERS: Meadows' former Republican House colleagues condemn the committee. Congressman Jim Jordan of Ohio called it a political charade.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: Make no mistake - when Democrats vote in favor of this resolution, it is a vote to put a good man in prison.

SUMMERS: The Justice Department will now decide whether to move forward with this case, leaving a man who was at the center of power in Washington for years now potentially facing prison. Juana Summers, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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