The “Escalating,” “Aggressive,” “Intensifying” Step of Subpoenaing Key Witness Mark Meadows

CNN and WSJ have reported, using all the typical hype words (see this thread for a collection of similar bullshit language), that Jack Smith’s team has subpoenaed Mark Meadows. But neither has included the most important information about the subpoena: what they’re really looking for.

They report only that Smith wants documents and testimony pertaining to January 6.

Special counsel Jack Smith’s office is seeking documents and testimony related to January 6, and Meadows received the subpoena sometime in January, the source said.

Neither Meadows’ attorney, the very good George Terwilliger, nor DOJ commented on this news, meaning it almost certainly came from one of the Trump lawyers who feeds all these stories, possibly even with the inflammatory adjectives.

It is not “aggressive” to subpoena one of the centrally important witnesses. It was not “aggressive” for the January 6 Committee to subpoena Meadows among their first investigative steps. It was not “aggressive” for Fani Willis to subpoena Meadows.

What is unusual is subpoenaing someone who is likely a key subject if not a target of the investigation, two years into the investigation, especially after he spent at least nine months trying to retroactively comply with the Presidential Records Act by providing the Archives communications he should have preserved in the first place, after which prosecutors obtained the communications from the Archives directly.

Indeed, DOJ’s Justice Manual requires specific approvals before subpoenaing someone if the person is a target.

If a voluntary appearance cannot be obtained, the target should be subpoenaed only after the United States Attorney or the responsible Assistant Attorney General have approved the subpoena. In determining whether to approve a subpoena for a “target,” careful attention will be paid to the following considerations:

  • The importance to the successful conduct of the grand jury’s investigation of the testimony or other information sought;
  • Whether the substance of the testimony or other information sought could be provided by other witnesses; and
  • Whether the questions the prosecutor and the grand jurors intend to ask or the other information sought would be protected by a valid claim of privilege.

Mind you, DOJ’s investigation, going back long before Smith joined it, has had to reach this bar on the testimony or legal process covering others by dint of various privileges, including attorney-client, executive, and speech and debate. But thus far, DOJ has usually used warrants, not subpoenas, with people who might be subjects or targets of the investigation.

There’s one known exception, of a person at the center of suspected crimes who nevertheless received a subpoena: Rudy Giuliani, in November (the CNN report on the subpoena emphasized the request for documents, but Reuters’ coverage said the subpoena asked for testimony as well). Notably, though, given how centrally involved Rudy was in suspected crimes leading up to the coup attempt, that subpoena asked for documents pertaining to the potential criminal behavior — the misspending of money raised by Save America PAC — of others. Indeed, DOJ seems to be treating subpoenas about discreet topics individually, meaning a witness who might have a good deal of exposure in one area may nevertheless be asked to testify about another area.

Something similar could be true here.

Trump’s PAC gave Meadows’ NGO, Conservative Partnership Institute, $1 million long after January 6, and CPI received the bulk of the money spent by the PAC.

Trump’s Save America PAC on July 26 gave $1 million to the Conservative Partnership Institute, the group where Meadows is a senior partner.

The donation came less than four weeks after the House voted to establish a select committee to investigate the January 6, 2021, insurrection at the US Capitol. In December, the House voted to recommend that the Department of Justice pursue criminal charges against Meadows for refusing to cooperate with the committee’s probe.

Trump’s political organization has amassed $122 million in cash reserves, his team announced Monday.

The $1 million to Meadows’ non-profit made up most of the $1.35 million in donations that Trump’s PAC disbursed to political organizations and candidates in the second half of 2021.

Since then, the organization has been described as the “insurrectionists’s clubhouse,” the key player in efforts to push the Republican Party even further right, including during Kevin McCarthy’s fight to be Speaker.  The policies pursued by Meadows’ organization are not, on their face at least, criminal; they would be protected by the First Amendment. But Trump’s decision to fund it using funds raised promising the money would be used for something else might be.

Who knows? Maybe the subpoena seeks information more central to the events leading up to January 6. Perhaps it’s an effort to obtain Signal texts that Meadows didn’t otherwise turn over to the Archives. Perhaps Terwilliger is just that good, and Meadows is out of legal danger for his role in stoking a coup attempt.

But the most interesting detail of this subpoena is not that DOJ sent it, but that someone so obviously exposed himself would get one.

Update: Roger Sollenberger, one of the best campaign finance reporters, has a long discussion of how Trump laundered money from the Save America PAC through other entities, including CPI.

74 replies
  1. Konny_2022 says:

    Thank you for the thread with the adjective collection. The inflationary use of “aggressive” is really striking, and may support your hinting at the possibility that it is already included in the original story feeds. Isn’t it part of the job of prosecutors to follow all leads, and only targets (or possible targets) consider this as aggression?

    • Marc in Denver says:

      Harry Truman: “I don’t give them Hell. I just tell the truth about them, and they think it’s Hell.”

  2. Sloth Sloman says:

    It seems like there’s been a subtle but very noticeable shift from “we won’t contest conservative politicians’ statements out of respect for a [false] idea of fairness” to “we are just going to ‘keep asking obnoxious, dishonest questions’ about trans people’s lives and pretending that normal investigative steps are ‘aggressive’ when applied to someone involved in GOP politics.”

    My recollection of the Benghazi hearings admittedly isn’t great, so I’m a little curious as to whether that was covered in a similar fashion. That entire investigation was the definition of “aggressive,” but I would not be shocked to find the same language was not used.

    I realize the NYT has always been approaching everything from a center-right (right to the rest of the world), but it seems like they have dramatically gone all in on this garbage of late.

    There was a letter signed by numerous NYT contributors and numerous other journalists directed at the NYT for their prevalent, obnoxious coverage of transgender people. I don’t mean to turn this into a discussion about that specifically, but there was a great line in the letter that said “The natural destination of poor editorial judgment is the court of law.” It then proceeded to cite numerous stories that dishonestly presented anti-trans activists as something more benign. Then it also cited court cases in GOP controlled states where these stories are being used as justification for the shitty laws they are trying to pass. It’s all quite disgusting. You can easily see how this will be weaponized by the people under investigation. Whether that will do anything, I’m not sure.

    ETA: (If you’re curious, this is where you can read the letter.)

    • Just Some Guy says:

      Thanks for linking that, and I agree. I signed the letter yesterday as a subscriber, and I was heartened to see many NYT contributors I know (and many who I don’t know) who have signed it too.

  3. Tom-1812 says:

    Perhaps the idea behind the use of the word “aggressive” is to evoke or conflate it with the term “microaggression”, as if to imply that the DOJ’s investigative actions are somehow unfair, prejudicial, provocative, or outright bullying.

    • mickquinas says:

      I think that evoking an emotional reaction is part of the strategy in the use of this language. And there may indeed be a connection to “microaggression”. I suspect that the primary goal in describing regular processes as “aggressive” or “escalating” is to keep the emotional temperature up among those whose anxiety is being exploited for financial and political gain. And perhaps the secondary goal is to diminish sensitivity to this language when deployed accurately against figures on the right.

      • wetzel says:

        To say the subpoena is ‘aggressive’ is to imply it is outside of norms. Normative statements carry an ‘ought to’ implication, so the implication is that they ‘ought not’ be doing this.

      • vietvet68-9 says:

        The Humpty Dumpty Theory of Language: “When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean- neither more nor less.”
        “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
        “The question is, ” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master- that’s all.”

  4. Leon Pascucci says:

    Maggie Haberman frequently describes these DOJ actions as “aggressive” but to the best of my knowledge never so described the attempted overthrow of our government by Trump similarly.

  5. Randy Baker says:

    Is there a legal or DOJ prohibition of calling a person to testify before a grand jury a second time? If so, it is understandable why DOJ would wish to have its ducks in a row before calling someone like Meadows. If not, why would DOJ not immediately have pulled him in to the grand jury to tie down his testimony — and then if subsequent developments cast doubts on that testimony, call him back? I would think calling him early would have reduced his opportunity to coordinate his story with other potential witnesses.

  6. Randy Baker says:

    I would add, I understand they generally don’t subpoena targets, but isn’t 2 years a long time to decide whether someone is a target? And even if he was a target, why not subpoena his documents at the outset? He had no 5th Amendment right to hold them.

    • PJB2point2 says:

      Don’t you suppose Meadows would have withheld the documents under the “act of production” doctrine and there would have been fighting in the courts over it? This is not to excuse what seems (on the outside, who knows what’s really going on) like excessive passivity by DOJ pre-Smith.

    • emptywheel says:

      If I’m right that this is about finances, then it would be outside the means by which they obtained other materials (the Archives), and the things they’re actually subpoenaing may well only date to July 2021 and later.

      • Peterr says:

        All this talk of issuing a subpoena for documents to Meadows brings to mind Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony that she saw Meadows burning documents in the WH on multiple occasions.

        Additionally, she told the committee that she saw Meadows burn documents in his office fireplace around a dozen times — about once or twice a week — between December 2020 and mid-January 2021.

        On several occasions, Hutchinson said, she was in Meadows’ office when he threw documents into the fireplace after a meeting. At least twice, the burning came after meetings with GOP Rep. Scott Perry, a Pennsylvania Republican, who has been linked to the efforts to use the Justice Department to overturn the 2020 election.

  7. PJB2point0 says:

    My understanding, which could easily be wrong, is that DOJ doesn’t put targets and subjects before the grand jury because they will likely just assert their 5th amendment rights and so it is a waste of time. Since they have subpoenaed him, does that mean he will likely testify? And, if he’s obviously central to the potential crimes but is not now a target or subject, does that imply he has cut some kind of cooperation deal which includes his truthful testimony before the grand jury? And if that is the case, does that imply the prosecutors have already vetted what he would say via proffer? This all seems a lot more interesting than the media is reporting.

    BTW, I hope my new moniker passes muster under the new security regime.

      • PJB2point0 says:

        I’m not following, sorry. Maybe my writing was unclear. I was trying to ask whether the fact that they’ve now (belatedly or not) issued a subpoena to Meadows indicates (I caveat this is speculative) the Special Counsel knows exactly what he’s going to testify to because it has been vetted as part of cooperation. .

  8. Teri says:

    This has been annoying me for a long time as well. Each new development is an “escalation.”

    It’s an upwardly sloping line, not something that keeps stalling and then jumpstarting.

    • bmaz says:

      Hi there Teri. We have an eight character minimum requirement for screen names at EW. Would you please be so kind as to modify yours to comply?

    • Rugger_9 says:

      Well, it’s reported as an ‘escalation’ but that doesn’t mean it is an escalation for real. That’s something EW, et al have been pointing out for a while here when the RWNM get frothy or Mag&Mike need to cover a car payment by publishing a column.

      I would note that the speculation in the post that it’s a Trump attorney behind this phrasing is part of ‘working the refs’.

      • Matt___B says:

        Are journalists paid “per piece”? Or do they get salaries? I would have to imagine that Mag & Mike are employees of NYT and get paid regularly regardless of how much or how little they produce.

  9. boatgeek says:

    Let’s see if I understand this:
    Normally a target of an investigation is subject to a warrant, when law enforcement arrives at a location and take the stuff they’re looking for. Is there a warrant-equivalent (other than arrest) that allows law enforcement to interview a person under penalty of perjury?

    Sometimes they’ll issue a subpoena instead, asking/demanding that the person give the documents/testimony requested. The person can decline to respond with the risk of being held in contempt or fight the subpoena in court.

    If so, it seems like Trump is talking out his ass (surprise!) when he says things like “I wasn’t subpoenaed so they clearly aren’t considering me a target” like he did in response to the Fani Willis special grand jury finishing its work. It seems like he would get his summons in the form of an indictment/arrest rather than a subpoena if he’s the big fish in the pond.

    Is that all accurate? Thanks!

    • bmaz says:

      “Normally a target of an investigation is subject to a warrant, when law enforcement arrives at a location and take the stuff they’re looking for. Is there a warrant-equivalent (other than arrest) that allows law enforcement to interview a person under penalty of perjury?”

      Anybody is subject to a warrant, if approved in due course by a court. And, of course any person can be questioned by law enforcement and, under §1001, it is a crime to lie to them, even if not sworn as a witness. That is not perjury though, if not sworn. Your next two paragraphs need to be rethought with that in mind.

    • emptywheel says:

      What I was trying to say is that if someone is a target, they’ve got probable cause against them. That’s WHY they’re a target. So they could just go ahead and get a warrant, unless there were a good reason not to do that (like alerting them to the investigation).

      One reason to subpoena things rather than get a warrant is to get things — like Signal texts — that would otherwise require a full phone extraction to get.

  10. Doctor My Eyes says:

    One way of viewing the slanted language is an example of the right jealously guarding techniques they deploy to good effect. To the right, freedom is something for them to have and for others not to have. Being aggressive is something for the right to do, on a claimed basis of legitimate need to be aggressive. Police murdering black kids is not seen as “aggressive”, but issuing a subpoena to a rightwing figure is aggressive. According to this thinking, when Trump weaponizes the government, it’s legitimate. There is no end to the examples. Being accused of doing something by the right has long been an indication that they are doing the very thing they are accusing others of doing; it is also true that the level of passion with which they make the accusation is directly proportional to how effective they think the tactic will be. So, Smith’s being “aggressive” means that the right has fears of perhaps one day possibly actually facing consequences for their actions. It’s so predictable as to be boring, but it’s still damaging to we the people.

  11. gmoke says:

    I wonder if there’s any “aggressive” action against Meadows for his reported registering to vote in three different states. North Carolina didn’t press charges but it’s too bad none of those states is Florida so that DeSantis can make an example of him (yeah, right).

    • harpie says:

      Also, CPI [founded 2017] is “closely tied to” the [REAGAN CULTIST] Council for National Policy [founded 1981]:

      A Rare Peek Inside the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy The Council for National Policy, a secretive network of powerful conservatives, goes to great lengths to conceal its activities and even its members. But recently uncovered documents reveal the extent of the group’s influence on American politics. [] Anne Nelson // August 26, 2022

      […] The Conservative Partnership Institute, which has attracted ample attention for its role in election subversion, is closely tied to the CNP, though few reporters have made the connection. The CPI’s
      1] chairman [longtime CNP member DEMINT],
      2] president and CEO [CNP member Ed CORRIGAN],
      3] senior legal partner [longtime CNP and CAP member Cleta MITCHELL], and
      4] senior director of policy [new CNP member Rachel BOVARD] are all prominent members of the CNP (see below), and the CPI has served as a public face for CNP tactics developed behind closed doors. […]

      In January 2021, DEMINT hired TRUMP’s former White House chief of staff Mark MEADOWS as “Senior Partner”, and in July—a week after the House voted to establish the January 6 commission—Trump’s Save America PAC contributed $1 million to the organization. […]

      • rip no longer says:

        Glad to see you mention Anne Nelson. She has investigated deeply into these types of laundering schemes.
        Her book: “Shadow Network: Media, Money, and the Secret Hub of the Radical Right” is a great research tool.

          • rip no longer says:

            Harpie – I understand and so appreciate all the very in-depth reporting you do here.

            I like your pattern of opening a new topic and following with replies that continue the flow of information. It helps to get the subject out there quickly, but also opens up the discussion for more to contribute.

            I’m in awe of your knowledge and looking forward to some compendium that may include others from this site, etc.

  12. Sloth Sloman says:

    Well this could be fun… the PB are going to try and subpoena Trump’s testimony according to the NYT.

      • Sloth Sloman says:

        No chance in hell he takes the stand, I’m just here for the fireworks if the judge allows it to proceed.

        Is it possible that Trump can significantly delay the trial if he fights the subpoena? Maybe this is a smarter move than I’m giving it credit for… letting Trump do the dirty work of stalling. Not sure what benefit that provides in the long run, though. Maybe a mistrial somehow?

  13. Savage Librarian says:

    As Marcy says, “the things they’re actually subpoenaing may well only date to July 2021 and later.”

    So, that gives me the perfect opportunity to point out that Susie Wiles has been CEO of Trump’s Save America PAC since March 2021. And that gives me the opportunity to point out some excerpts from an article that shows just how data focused she is, (but I recommend reading the whole article.):
    “We targeted strategic demographic groups that are not traditional Republican supporters with messaging that was uniquely tailored to them,” Wiles wrote. “These targeted messages leveraged the president’s position on issues or amplified negatively our opponent’s position on an issue of importance to targeted voters.”
    “Wiles pointed to outreach efforts that she said totaled about 27 million voter contacts through phone calls and door-knocking. She contrasted that with what she described as a Democratic strategy to focus on a “pony express absentee voter request campaign,” which allowed a “superhighway clear of all traffic for Trump Victory Florida to have historic participation.”

    “She said data allowed the campaign to tailor messages to specific groups.
    “The team integrated data into every mode of communication – digital, mail, texting, canvassing and phones,” she wrote.”
    “…Statistics tell us that on average 25%-35% of attendees at a rally are not Republicans and/or not registered to vote. Attendance at a rally, while free of charge, requires registration, which enables the campaign to determine a way to contact the attendee and allows that contact to include voter registration, if needed, and messaging for persuasion.”

    And for some Florida gator flavor there is this:

    • bgThenNow says:

      Exactly. We did banner drops (yes, scary for us) at one of TFG’s first rallies, and the registration required emails. I have not blocked or stopped all of them because I like to see what they are up to with the messaging.

  14. punaise says:

    Speaking of aggressive (or is it passive aggressive?) acts, my favorite ploy for sticking it the The Man when paying a bill: in the “amount paid” area I write “yes”. So there!

  15. James Wimberley says:

    To this British ear, what jars about American use of “aggressive” is that it is often used with a favourable connotation, as in “aggressive cancer treatment”.

  16. GWPDA says:

    This just in today: ” At least three Arizona Republican state legislators have been subpoenaed by the U.S. Justice Department’s special counsel, Jack Smith, as part of the criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump and his efforts to reverse his 2020 election loss. …. The federal grand jury subpoenas were issued to Senate President Warren Petersen, Sen. Sonny Borrelli and House Speaker Ben Toma. And at least one former state senator, Michelle Ugenti-Rita, who led the Senate’s Election Committee in 2021, received a subpoena. All four have been ordered to produce records and travel to Washington, D.C., to testify. The Arizona Mirror obtained a copy of one of the subpoenas on the condition that it would not be published. In addition to the command to testify before the grand jury, the office of the special counsel is demanding any documents already provided to the congressional panel that investigated the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot and any documents given to any other state or federal inquiry related to the 2020 presidential election.

    The subpoena also seeks all communications with Trump or his campaign. It also specifies 18 different campaign employees, attorneys and surrogates: Kenneth Chesebro, Justin Clark, Joe DiGenova, John Eastman, Jenna Ellis, Boris Epshteyn, Rudy Giuliani, Bernard Kerik, Bruce Marks, Cleta Mitchell, Matthew Morgan, Kurt Olsen, William Olson, Sidney Powell, Bill Stepien, Victoria Toensing, James Troupis and L. Lin Wood. (AZMirror, 17 Feb 23)

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, so DOJ is subpoenaing documents turned over to the Mighty J6 Committee? One might be inclined to figure the Mighty J6 Committee “still” has not forked over all they collected to DOJ. What a bunch of self promoting jackasses J6 has proven themselves to be.

      [You have not updated your name to eight characters yet, as requested. Do that now. Also, too, why not provide a link to the AZ Mirror? I know some of them, and they are great, why not give them a bit of recognition?]

  17. Thomas7777 says:

    Trump created a wire fraud racketeering enterprise, and then he committed additional felonies laundering the money, and then some of the laundered money was used to finance more crimes.

    Trump was routinely engaged in constant racketeering schemes while he was president, and he never stopped committing crimes after he left office.

    Two cases are most likely to yield indictments first: The documents case and the coup plot. Both are being held up by secret appeals by Trump and his co-conspirators to block testimony and evidence from the grand jury. But Trump is running out of stunts.

    Late March to mid-May is my latest estimate, for those cases.

    Here is how I see the timeline for the cases:
    1. Documents case
    2. Stormy Daniel’s case
    3. Coup Plot
    4. Georgia Case #1 (Ruby Freeman)
    5. Fake Electors
    6. Financial crimes (NY)
    7. Georgia case #2 (Racketeering and Election Fraud)
    8. Insurrection
    9. Wire Fraud and Racketeering
    10. Money laundering
    11. Racketeering and obstruction crimes (bribery, extortion, witness tampering, suborning perjury, blackmail)
    12. Federal tax fraud
    13. Another money laundering case
    14. Another seditious conspiracy case

    I think that the first seven of these indictments are going to be made before December of this year.

    My belief is that the documents case is actually espionage, obstruction and endangerment of federal officials, not just “mishandling documents.” And Trump will be jailed and he will never get out of jail again for the rest of his life.

    He will be touring jails and courts being arraigned for the subsequent indictments this year, and watch “the base” disappear along with “Fox News.”

    It will be a tumultuous summer. With every shooting or infrastructure attack by crackpot dead-Enders, more of them will be jailed and more people will turn away from “maga”

    • bmaz says:

      Lol, where do you come up with all this?? You have no idea in the world what timeline DOJ is on, nor why, nor whether anything is “being held up by secret appeals by Trump”. And the thought Trump is going to be detained pre-trial is ludicrous.

        • bmaz says:

          I do not know from behind what rock you are lobbing your garbage, but it is hyperbolic inflated garbage. And this type of inflated, and uninformed conflated and speculative garbage, is starting to be a real problem in this comment section.

  18. Randy Baker says:

    Rich guys who can flee like Madoff and Bankman-Fried get bail and home detention, pending trial. It will be interesting to see trial judges explain why Trump shouldn’t also receive bail and home detention pending trial. Certainly a man whose record includes [as shown by a preponderance of the evidence so far] committing felony obstruction to overturn a presidential election, several acts of obstruction of justice documented by Mueller, and considerable evidence he flaunted a federal subpoena can be counted on to honor his obligation to appear for trial.

    • bmaz says:

      This is ludicrous. People are out of their minds. Trump will never, nor should he be, detained. Yes, he SHOULD be released. Seize his passport and let him be.

      By the way, “preponderance of the evidence” is not a status burden on crimes, much less ones that were never previously charged. Get a grip.

      • Thomas7777 says:

        No way in hell he is allowed to walk around free with the charges coming his way.

        He’s a traitor, an organized crime boss and a terrorist threat.

        You think it’s ludicrous to jail him pre-trial? He’s more dangerous than every J6 seditionist currently jailed., combined.

        So far we have seen at least two reports, both from court filings that he is facing espionage charges.

        I sure hope your conventional wisdom is wrong and DOJ doesn’t let this vicious traitorous criminal walk around free inciting terrorist attacks. That would be crazy.

        [MOD NOTE: Please use the same username each time you comment so that community members get to know you. You published comments between Oct-Dec 2022 as “ThomasJ7777” and now you’ve dropped the J in your last three comments. Pick a name and stick with it. /~Rayne]

        • Rayne says:

          No way in hell he is allowed to walk around free with the charges coming his way.

          DOJ will not apply YOUR personal standard to its approach; Trump’s status as former president as well as whatever charges may be filed against him and his flight risk will be taken into consideration.

          I suggest you take a move to the shade, cool the fuck down, and consider the fact you are arguing with a lawyer who has handled more than a few criminal cases in his career, who isn’t pulling crap out of his ass the way you are.

  19. Randy Baker says:

    Preponderance of the evidence is the standard under which conditions on release pending trial may be imposed. Such conditions do not constitute adjudication of crimes.

    And, I missed the reason why Trump should be treated better than Madoff, Bankman-Fried, and other similarly situated rich guys who were subject to home detention.

    • bmaz says:

      Uh, one of those is not likely to flee. Only one of those is a former President, and only one of those is an announced candidate for 2024.

      Assuming that was directed at me.

  20. Randy Baker says:

    Trump removed me from his Christmas card list years ago, so I don’t have any special insight into his thinking.
    However, regardless of his being a former President and announced candidate [neither are enumerated factors in deciding on bail conditions], I assume he is motivated by the same factors any person at risk of serious time is motivated by, and thereby poses the same flight risk as any person — such as he — with the means to do so. By the way coming into the bail hearing with a documented record of lawlessness also distinguishes him — negatively — from the other rich guys confined to home detention.
    Having said that, of course, the risk of his serving serious time presupposes everyone is treated the same under the law, and there are rumors that presumption is invalid.

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