(CNN)Former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows did not appear for a deposition on Friday in front of the House select committee investigating January 6, sources familiar with the investigation tell CNN, setting up a potential showdown that could lead to the panel beginning a criminal referral process against him.
Committee staffers had been prepared to go forward with the interview and waited in a room on Capitol Hill with a stenographer, but started to file out of the room nine minutes after the deadline passed.
The committee has not commented on whether Meadows was a no-show, and his attorney did not respond to a request for comment after the scheduled deposition.
Ahead of the scheduled deposition Friday morning, Meadows’ attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, issued a statement saying his client would not cooperate with the committee until courts ruled on former President Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege, noting “a sharp legal dispute with the committee.”
“The issues concern whether Mr. Meadows can be compelled to testify and whether, even if he could, that he could be forced to answer questions that involve privileged communications,” Terwilliger said. “Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts. 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 added, “No matter how important the subject matter of the committee’s work, decades of litigation over Executive Privilege shows how critically important it is for a president to have access to advice and counsel without fear that political opponents in Congress will later be able to pull away the shield of confidentiality that protects candor in those communications.”
By officially setting a deadline that Meadows did not meet, the committee took an official step toward possibly referring Meadows to the Department of Justice for contempt of Congress.
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, scheduled the Friday deposition late Thursday evening in an effort to force Meadows’ compliance.
“The Select Committee will view Mr. Meadows’s failure to appear at the deposition, and to produce responsive documents or a privilege log indicating the specific basis for withholding any documents you believe are protected by privilege, as willful non-compliance,” Thompson wrote on Thursday ahead of the scheduled deposition.
Thompson continued, “Such willful noncompliance with the subpoena would force the Select Committee to consider invoking the contempt of Congress procedures … which could result in a referral from the House of Representatives to the Department of Justice for criminal charges — as well as the possibility of having a civil action to enforce the subpoena brought against Mr. Meadows in his personal capacity.”
Earlier Thursday, White House Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su wrote to Meadows’ attorney, informing him of Biden’s decision and once again citing “the unique and extraordinary circumstances where Congress is investigating an effort to obstruct the lawful transfer of power under our Constitution.”
Su noted to Terwilliger that Biden has already determined that executive privilege does not apply to particular subjects within the committee’s purview, including “events within the White House on or about January 6, 2021; attempts to use the Department of Justice to advance a false narrative that the 2020 election was tainted by widespread fraud; and other efforts to alter election results or obstruct the transfer of power.”
The Washington Post first reported Su’s letter.
Meadows was subpoenaed in September, and since then the committee has indicated he’s been “engaging” in negotiations over the terms of his turning over documents and appearing for a deposition.
But weeks after the committee granted Meadows a “short” but indefinite postponement of the initial subpoena deadline, members are growing increasingly frustrated and have been contemplating when and how to ramp up the pressure.
The committee is setting up to follow a similar path it pursued with Trump ally Steve Bannon. After making clear from the outset that he had no intention of cooperating with the panel, Bannon now faces possible prosecution for defying his subpoena.
On Tuesday, the committee also subpoenaed two former White House officials who worked closely with Meadows in an effort to learn more about his efforts to communicate with others relevant to the probe — including election officials in Georgia, organizers of January 6 events and high-level officials at the Department of Justice.
This story has been updated with additional developments Friday.