Top Trump aide snubs order to testify on January 6 violence

© Agence France-Presse

Mark Meadows was subpoenaed to appear before the House Select Committee investigating the violent January 6 siege

Washington (AFP) - President Donald Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows refused Friday to testify before a Congressional committee investigating the January 6 assault on the US Capitol, setting up possible contempt charges.

Meadows was subpoenaed to appear before the House Select Committee investigating the violent January 6 siege by Trump supporters, which shut down Congress.

The committee is seeking to understand how much Trump, his staff and political advisors may have been involved in the attack, and has summoned dozens of former officials to testify.

Meadows' attorney, George Terwilliger, said in a statement that his side was in a "sharp legal dispute" with the committee over Trump's claim of executive privilege to avoid providing testimony or records from the former president's White House operation.

Meadows has used that claim to say he cannot testify unless a court overrules Trump's privilege claim.

"It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues," Terwilliger said.

The committee said in a statement Thursday that President Joe Biden had already waived executive privilege with regard to the investigation, meaning Meadows was compelled to testify.

The committee warned that Meadows could be ruled in contempt of Congress and referred to the Justice Department for criminal charges, as was done with former Trump political advisor Steve Bannon, who refused to testify.

The Justice Department has yet to decide on whether the press charges on Bannon.

Meadows' case could hinge on a parallel fight over executive privilege being fought directly by the committee and Trump in federal court in Washington.

The committee has demanded Trump records linked to the January 6 unrest from the National Archives.

Trump invoked his presidential executive privilege to demand the records remain sealed, but Biden, as the current executive, also waived that privilege for the records.

The dispute has set up an unprecedented battle between a serving and former president over the bounds of privilege. 

The committee won one battle Tuesday in the first round in the court.

But Trump has appealed, and the case is to be heard by the federal appeals court on November 30.

Whatever the appeals court rules, analysts say the case is likely to go to the US Supreme Court.