Mark Meadows has always prided himself on navigating the complexities of Washington’s power circles, but his central role in former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election could present the biggest challenge yet for a man who often claimed he plays “10 dimensional chess.”
While Meadows appeared to avoid culpability in the federal case against Trump for his efforts to remain in power, that was not the case in Georgia, where he faces charges alongside 18 others, including Trump, for racketeering as well as for solicitation of violation of oath by a public officer.
Meadows has been silent on the federal Jan. 6 case that also includes efforts to overturn the 2020 election, fueling speculation he may be cooperating with federal prosecutors.
In Georgia, he came out swinging — filing a motion to remove his case to federal court less than 24 hours after the indictment was unveiled. It’s a move likely to be followed by many of the other defendants in the case.
“This was inevitable, in my view, given his failure to rein in Trump. Given his failure as White House chief of staff,” said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a book chronicling the history of White House chiefs of staff.
“I think he’s always been a guy who played every side of the fence,” Whipple added. “He was a yes man, but not just to Trump. He was a yes man to everyone. But that may have been too clever by half, and it’s all caught up with him.”
Meadows had a rapid rise after representing a rural North Carolina district, heading the Freedom Caucus — of which he was a founding member — from 2017-19, during Trump’s first two years in the White House.
He went from one of Trump’s top allies in Congress to White House chief of staff in March 2020, following the tenures of Mick Mulvaney, John Kelly and Reince Priebus.
But from that perch, Meadows played a central role in Trump’s effort to reverse his election loss as a key behind-the-scenes player on everything from the pressure campaign at the Justice Department to coordinating with lawmakers ahead of the certification of the vote. And he made a controversial impromptu trip to Georgia amid the state’s certification process.
He was also in the room when Trump called Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and asked him to “find” 11,780 votes — “one more than we have,” Trump said — that would have flipped the outcome in his favor in the state. That call is the basis for the solicitation charge leveled against him in Georgia.
Former Trump White House officials have claimed that Meadows played both sides, simultaneously allowing allegations of fraud to reach the president while dismissing the claims to others in the building.
“The Trump train, as with so many others, has run him over. My guess is he will do whatever he can to stay out of jail and build a new future without Trump and without politics,” one fellow administration appointee under Trump told The Hill.
“There was a moment when he could have walked away as the guy who warned us about Madison Cawthorn, but now he will carry the ignominy of being a Trump co-defendant for the rest of his life,” the source said, referring to another former North Carolina congressman.
Meadows has had a complex response to the myriad of inquiries that have resulted from the election efforts and his involvement during the Jan. 6 Capitol riot.
He turned over some 2,000 texts to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack but defied a subpoena to testify before the panel.
And it took court orders to force his testimony before grand juries in the special counsel and Georgia investigations.
Testimony and text messages gathered by the House panel investigating the riots portrayed Meadows as someone who both fielded conspiracy theories about fraud in the 2020 election and remained a mostly passive bystander as violence unfolded at the Capitol.
Some of the most damning testimony before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot involved Meadows, whose image took a beating when his former aide, Cassidy Hutchinson, displayed him as a major part of the key moments leading up to the violence of the day.
Meadows has largely remained out of the spotlight since leaving the office, and his relationship with Trump is now nonexistent, one source said.
The absence of Meadows — long known as someone who gravitated toward the limelight — left some in Trump’s orbit concerned about whether the former congressman was cooperating with prosecutors.
His relationship with Trump has sometimes become fraught, including due to an episode where Trump allegedly shared a classified document with writers working on Meadows’s memoir during a meeting at Trump’s Bedminster, N.J., property. The incident was later cited in a federal indictment against Trump over his handling of classified documents after leaving office.
And a frayed Meadows-Trump relationship was on full display when Meadows published his book, “The Chief’s Chief,” which detailed that Trump tested positive for COVID-19 days before his first debate against now-President Biden. Trump denied the claim and called it “fake news,” which led Meadows to say during an interview in December 2021 that the claim from his own book was “fake news.”
Meadows currently works for the Conservative Partnership Institute, a networking hub for conservative staffers in D.C.
The group’s chairman, former Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), offered a statement of support for Meadows in the wake of the Georgia charges, calling him “one of America’s most courageous conservative fighters.”
“His heartfelt commitment to Americans who feel Washington has left them behind is the reason Mark is a target of this embarrassing and partisan prosecution in Georgia; the Left clearly hopes that by attacking him, liberals can keep good people out of public service,” DeMint said.
Meadows’s effort to remove his case to federal court laid out his first public defense to the charges, arguing he did nothing wrong while carrying out typical chief of staff duties.
“Nothing Mr. Meadows is alleged in the indictment to have done is criminal per se: arranging Oval Office meetings, contacting state officials on the President’s behalf, visiting a state government building, and setting up a phone call for the President,” his attorneys wrote in the filing.
“One would expect a Chief of Staff to the President of the United States to do these sorts of things,” it read.
If his bid is successful, it could have some benefits, including any eventual case tapping into a broader jury pool or even having a greater opportunity to be seen under a Trump-appointed judge.
But Georgia authorities would still try the case, and it would still deal with state-level charges — leaving them out of reach for a presidential pardon.
“Not a surprise Meadows and Trump are trying to move to federal courts,” said a former senior Trump campaign staffer, speculating Trump will likely do the same.
“Friendlier audiences. They say when you’re in a hole, stop digging. But people in the Trump sphere just buy bigger diggers—Meadows included. They’re guilty as hell and they know it.”