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House panel wraps up an important week in the probe into the Capitol attack

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

It's been an important week for the Democratic-led House panel investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. We heard detailed text messages sent to then White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows during that siege. Meadows could now face prosecution from the Justice Department after he was held in contempt of Congress. And there are lingering questions about the role of former President Donald Trump himself. NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales has been reporting on this. Claudia, so what stood out to you from what we've learned this week?

CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: This investigation received a new level of attention these past few days. It raised its profile. It produced some of the most detailed insights we have heard yet about what Trump's inner circle was thinking and saying behind closed doors. And this includes strategy shared by Republican lawmakers on how to overturn President Biden's election results. And also, we heard the frantic messages that those in this inner circle were sending as this violent attack took place.

MARTINEZ: Those messages, remind us what was in those messages.

GRISALES: Right. Meadows turned over more than 8,500 emails and text messages before he stopped cooperating with the committee. And we just heard a fraction of those. One of the more dramatic texts shared came from Trump's eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to Meadows during the deadly siege. The select committee's top Republican, Liz Cheney, shared that and many others.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LIZ CHENEY: He's got to condemn this [expletive] ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough.

GRISALES: Trump Jr. is referencing a tweet that his father sent asking for support for police about 20 minutes after rioters breached the Capitol building.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: Meadows responded, quote, "I'm pushing it hard. I agree."

GRISALES: But that was not the end of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: Donald Trump Jr. texted again and again, urging action by the president. Quote, "we need an Oval Office address. He has to lead now. It has gone too far and gotten out of hand."

GRISALES: It wasn't just family. The public also got a glimpse of the close ties between several Fox News cable personalities and the Trump White House. Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and Brian Kilmeade pleaded for Trump to act immediately. Ingraham told Meadows the attack was, quote, "hurting all of us and destroying everything." Both she and Hannity have responded since her messages became public.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LAURA INGRAHAM: Both publicly and privately, I said what I believe, that the breach of the Capitol on January 6 was a terrible thing.

GRISALES: Hannity asked, where was the public outrage that his private messages were released?

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SEAN HANNITY: Do we believe in privacy in this country? Apparently not.

GRISALES: Ohio's Jim Jordan sent one of the messages to Meadows revealed this week about rejecting President Biden's election win. On the floor, Jordan came to Meadows' defense, calling him a friend.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM JORDAN: We all know what a good man he is. And this is as wrong as it gets. You all know it. But your lust for power, your lust to get your opponent is so intense, you don't care.

GRISALES: That is the point that Republicans hammered in their debate before the House voted to refer Meadows for criminal contempt. Indiana Congressman Jim Banks led those arguments for the GOP.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JIM BANKS: He tried to cooperate. But the select committee didn't care.

GRISALES: The select committee says Meadows refused to testify about the records he shared. For his part, Meadows said his criminal referral was about going after Trump again. Meadows argues he's blocked from sharing more details by Trump's executive privilege claims.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MARK MEADOWS: The executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is his to waive. It's not mine to waive. It's not Congress' to waive.

GRISALES: But President Biden waived executive privilege in Meadows' case. And so far, the courts are siding with arguments that the sitting president has that claim, not the former. Many of the text messages the panel read were from unnamed sources, including from more Republican lawmakers. Panel Chairman Bennie Thompson said they could be identified later and be part of future talks with the committee.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BENNIE THOMPSON: We intentionally didn't name the people. Those - the names are in our files. At some point, they will be. But it's a little premature for us to do it right now.

GRISALES: Thompson said the information the panel did receive has been, quote, "quite revealing" when it comes to members of Congress and staff involved in the activities of January 6. Throughout this week's revelations, another stood out as Cheney raised the specter of criminal questions surrounding Trump himself and a delay of 187 minutes to get more help to the Capitol.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CHENEY: Mr. Meadows' testimony will bear on another key question before this committee. Did Donald Trump, through action or inaction, corruptly seek to obstruct or impede Congress' official proceedings to count electoral votes?

GRISALES: Lawmakers say the panel and the Justice Department could consider next steps when it comes to whether Trump himself or other high-profile allies should face criminal charges tied to the attack. And even top Republicans, such as Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, are closely following the latest developments.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MITCH MCCONNELL: We're all watching, as you are, what is unfolding on the House side. And it will be interesting to reveal all the participants who were involved.

MARTINEZ: And we have NPR's Claudia Grisales back with us now. Let's get into the specifics of Meadows' case that was referred to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress. What's the status of that now?

GRISALES: Right. This decision will likely involve the highest levels of the agency. And we can compare this case to another of subpoenaed witness and former strategist Steve Bannon, who received an indictment about three weeks after his criminal referral was made by the House. Committee member Pete Aguilar talked to reporters about this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PETE AGUILAR: I'm confident that the Department of Justice is independent and will make a recommendation following the law, just like they did with Mr. Bannon.

GRISALES: But this is a tougher case for the Justice Department than Bannon's. Bannon was not a member of the administration on January 6. And he outright defied his subpoena, while Meadows did turn over thousands of emails and text messages before his cooperation ended.

MARTINEZ: Overall, where's the committee now in terms of the investigation?

GRISALES: Aguilar told reporters that if he had to grade the committee's work now that he would give it an I for incomplete. But like other members of the committee, he also expressed great confidence for getting this investigation done by next year. And when you consider they've seen more than 300 witnesses, they are transcribing hundreds of depositions, plus 30,000 pages of documents of evidence to sift through, so that's plenty of extensive ground for them to cover already.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Claudia Grisales. Thanks a lot.

GRISALES: Thank you much.

(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "MANSIONS OF MILLIONS OF YEARS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.