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The Morning Dispatch: What Texts to Mark Meadows Tell Us About January 6
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The Morning Dispatch: What Texts to Mark Meadows Tell Us About January 6

Plus: There were more Americans left behind in Afghanistan than the Biden administration let on.

Happy Tuesday! Time’s Person of the Year may be Elon Musk, but The Dispatch’s Person of the Year is … Steve Buscemi.

He hasn’t done anything particularly noteworthy in 2021 (that we know of), but it seems like he’s generally a pretty good guy—and Lord knows we could use more of those nowadays. Congratulations to Steve Buscemi!

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear said Monday afternoon that 74 people in the state had been confirmed dead in the wake of this weekend’s tornadoes, with more than 100 still missing or unaccounted for. It will take “a week or even more before we have a final count on the number of lost lives,” Beshear added. President Joe Biden is scheduled to travel to several parts of the state on Wednesday to survey the damage.

  • The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday upheld a district judge’s ruling from earlier this year requiring the Biden administration to reimplement the Trump administration’s Migrant Protection Protocols, or “Remain in Mexico” policy.

  • The State Department said Monday the United States has helped evacuate 479 American citizens and 450 lawful permanent residents from Afghanistan since the U.S. military departed the country at the end of August, adding that State Department officials are currently in touch with “fewer than a dozen” U.S. citizens who “want to leave Afghanistan, are prepared to depart, and have the necessary travel documents.” President Biden said on August 31 his administration believed there were only “about 100 to 200” Americans left in Afghanistan with intentions to leave.

  • The Pentagon confirmed Monday that after a lengthy investigation, no U.S. military personnel will be punished for the August 29 airstrike in Afghanistan that killed 10 civilians, including seven children. “What we saw here was a breakdown in process and execution in procedural events,” Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said. “Not the result of negligence, not the result of misconduct, not the result of poor leadership.”

  • USA Gymnastics and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee reached a $380 million settlement Monday with the hundreds of athletes who were assaulted by team doctor Larry Nassar over the past several decades.

January 6 Select Committee Heats Up

(Photograph by Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images.)

In the nearly six months since the House voted to establish the January 6 Select Committee, the panel has generated more news for what it’s been doing—holding hearings with Metropolitan and Capitol police, issuing subpoenas to dozens of former President Donald Trump’s allies and administration officials, moving to hold Steve Bannon and Jeffrey Clark in criminal contempt—than what it’s been uncovering about the attack on the Capitol and what led to it. That changed last night.

The committee held a hearing Monday evening to consider contempt of Congress charges against a third Trump confidante, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, whose willingness to work with investigators has oscillated in recent weeks.

First subpoenaed on September 23, Meadows stalled past the committee’s original deadline to comply. But on November 30, Rep. Bennie Thompson—the committee’s chair—announced the former chief of staff was “engaging” with lawmakers through his lawyer and on track to sit for a deposition “soon.” Just one week later, however, that same lawyer—citing the committee’s “pugnacious approach” and lack of “fairness” in dealing with witnesses—made clear Meadows’ limited cooperation was over. What changed? It’s hard to say for sure, but committee sources believe that former President Donald Trump was unhappy with Meadows’ cooperation and with leaks from Meadows’ forthcoming book confirming that Trump had tested positive for COVID before the second presidential debate.

But at some point after Meadows  agreed to play ball and before he stopped, he turned over a lot of records—reportedly nearly 10,000 pages worth—from his time at the White House. It was from this tranche of documents that Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney drew material for her opening remarks last night.

“Mr. Meadows received numerous text messages [on January 6]—which he has produced without any privilege claim—imploring that Mr. Trump take the specific action we all knew his duty required,” she said. “These text messages leave no doubt. The White House knew exactly what was happening here at the Capitol. Members of Congress, the press, and others wrote to Mark Meadows as the attack was underway.”

“Mark, protestors are literally storming the Capitol,” one message read. “Breaking windows on doors. Rushing in. Is Trump going to say something?”

Another text expressed even more urgency: “POTUS has to come out firmly and tell protestors to dissipate. Someone is going to get killed.”

The sentiments conveyed privately to Meadows were not all that different from what many Republican lawmakers—Rep. Mike Gallagher, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Bill Cassidy, Sen. Rob Portman—expressed publicly during the 187 minutes it took Trump to finally call on his supporters to disperse. But as Cheney revealed yesterday, it wasn’t just the establishment wing of the party reaching out to Meadows with alarm.

“He’s got to condemn this shit ASAP. The Capitol Police tweet is not enough,” Donald Trump Jr. said, referring to his father’s post asking rioters to “stay peaceful,” which was sent 15 minutes after Trump condemned Vice President Mike Pence—the object of much of the rioters’ anger—for not having the “courage” to “do what should have been done.” Meadows replied that he agreed and was “pushing it hard,” leading Trump Jr. to note “it has gone too far and gotten out of hand.”

Texts from a trio of Trump-supporting Fox News opinion hosts were swept up in the inquiry as well. 

“Please get him on tv,” Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade added. “Destroying everything you have accomplished.”

“Can he make a statement?” Sean Hannity asked. “Ask people to leave the Capitol.”

“Mark, the president needs to tell people in the Capitol to go home,” Laura Ingraham said, echoing the thoughts she shared on Twitter. “This is hurting all of us. He is destroying his legacy.”

Ingraham led off her show that night by saying the riot “will only serve to make the lives of MAGA supporters more difficult and even imperil this movement they fought so hard for,” but she also raised questions about the attack being an Antifa false flag and sought to reduce the size of the crowd to “maybe, like, three dozen people.”

The efforts to whitewash the events of that day have become only more brazen in the months since. In July, Ingraham mocked U.S. Capitol Police testifying before Congress about their experiences on that day. In November, Kilmeade hosted Tucker Carlson on Fox & Friends to help promote Carlson’s Patriot Purge” docuseries that attempts to reframe January 6 as part of a ‘War on Terror 2.0” targeting patriotic Americans, an effort an effort that may have included an FBI-led “false flag” sting operation. Hannity had Meadows on his show last night to push back on the criminal contempt charges and  did not once bring up the text messages during a segment that ran longer than eight minutes.

But as the texts show, on January 6—when the stakes were the highest—even Trump’s biggest supporters knew that he was the only one who could call off the rioters and end the siege of the Capitol.

What Happens Next

Meadows sued the January 6 Select Committee last week in an effort to block its subpoena, and his lawyer—George Terwilliger III—sent a letter to the lawmakers Monday morning urging them to hold off on a criminal contempt charge that he argued would be “contrary to law, manifestly unjust, unwise, and unfair.” But the panel forged ahead unanimously last night, recommending the move and teeing up a vote in the Democratic-controlled House as early as today.

“There’s a very high probability that they will refer me for criminal contempt to DOJ,” Meadows conceded to Hannity last night. “[But] when you look at the criminal component of this, the intent, there’s never been any intent on my part. I’ve tried to share non-privileged information. But truly the executive privilege that Donald Trump has claimed is his to waive, it’s not mine to waive, it’s not Congress’ to waive.”

A series of federal courts have ruled in recent weeks that Trump cannot exert executive privilege to block the National Archives from releasing White House records related to January 6—the Supreme Court will likely issue a final ruling on the matter soon—but Cheney argued yesterday that privilege does not factor into Meadows’ contempt referral.

“We believe Mr. Meadows is improperly asserting executive and other privileges,” she said. “But this vote on contempt today relates principally to Mr. Meadows’s refusal to testify about text messages and other communications that he admits are not privileged. He has not claimed, and does not have, any privilege bases to refuse entirely to testify regarding these topics.”

Had Senate Republicans sprung for the bipartisan commission that passed the House with 35 GOP votes back in May, the investigative body would have been required to submit its final report to Congress and President Biden by the end of this month to avoid bleeding into election season. But because Republicans—led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell—opted to block it, the committee created in its stead by Speaker Nancy Pelosi can take as much time as its members believe is necessary.

And if the past few days are any indication, the committee is sitting on a mountain of information, of which only a small fraction has been made public. Thompson said yesterday that by the end of this week, the group will have spoken with more than 300 witnesses, cataloged more than 30,000 records, and received nearly 250 “substantive” tips on its tip line.

“Before too long, our findings will be out in the open,” he said. “We will have public hearings. We will tell this story to the American people. But we won’t do it piecemeal. We’ll do it when we can tell the story all at once, from start to finish, not leave anyone guessing and not allowing it to fade into the memories of last week’s news. This story is too important. The stakes are too high. We have to do this job right.”

Number of Americans Left Behind in Afghanistan Was Larger Than Biden Administration Let On

On August 31, President Biden delivered a speech in the White House State Dining Room in the hopes of assuring the country that—although the U.S. military’s mission in Afghanistan had come to an end—the State Department’s resolve to guarantee the safe departure of the Americans and Afghan partners left behind remained steadfast. 

“For those remaining Americans, there is no deadline,” the president said at the time. “We remain committed to get them out if they want to come out. Secretary of State Blinken is leading the continued diplomatic efforts to ensure a safe passage for any American, Afghan partner, or foreign national who wants to leave Afghanistan.”

The Biden administration has in the months since been coordinating with Taliban leadership to “facilitate” the departures of American citizens and lawful permanent residents, primarily via U.S.-chartered Qatar Airway flights. On Monday, we got a glimpse at just how busy these channels have been: According to the State Department’s latest estimates, the U.S. government has assisted in the evacuation and relocation of 479 American citizens and 450 lawful permanent residents since the conclusion of the military’s noncombatant evacuation, or NEO, in August.

These figures caught the attention of those closely tracking the U.S.’ ongoing diplomatic efforts, as the Biden administration had previously indicated the number of Americans left behind on August 31 was far lower. “We believe that about 100 to 200 Americans remain in Afghanistan with some intention to leave,” Biden said in the aforementioned speech on August 31.

It wasn’t a one-off estimate. Days later, White House Chief of Staff Ron Klain appeared on CNN’s State of the Union to confirm that “around 100” U.S. citizens were seeking to leave the country. “We are going to find ways to get them—the ones that want to leave—to get them out of Afghanistan,” he said. “We know many of them have family members, many of them want to stay, but the ones that want to leave, we’re going to get them out.” 

Secretary of State Antony Blinken provided the same number in testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on September 14, but allowed for a little wiggle room. “On the American citizens who wish to leave, the number is about 100 and it’s very hard to give a real time number at any given number because it’s very fluid,” he told lawmakers. “Some, for very understandable reasons, are changing their mind from day-to-day about whether or not they want to leave. Others continue, even now, to raise their hands and say ‘I’m an American citizen in Afghanistan’—someone who had not identified themselves before.”

Despite several documented departure flights in September, the administration’s number of remaining Americans had swelled by late October, not shrunk. In a briefing to congressional staff, the State Department reported that it was in touch with more than 360 U.S. citizens, 176 of whom were actively trying to leave the country. As Charlotte wrote in a piece for the site at the time, this estimate aligned more closely with what private citizens involved in evacuation efforts had been saying all along.

For those frequently tuned in to State Department spokesman Ned Price’s multi-weekly briefings, this figure—divulged to lawmakers behind closed doors—was a contradiction, though not necessarily a surprise.  Although congressional sources and those working to evacuate U.S. citizens and allies have long maintained that the administration was undercounting, Biden administration officials insisted that the U.S. only abandoned  ‘dozens’ or ‘around 100’—totals that have now been confirmed as wrong.

But the new figures were in no way shocking to the many veterans, lawmakers, and nonprofit organizations who for months have diligently tracked and aided the families stranded in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan. In the nearly two months since a suicide bombing outside of Hamid Karzai International Airport permanently halted the military-led evacuation of civilians from Kabul, a slow trickle of American and Afghan evacuees has managed—largely thanks to the individual efforts of private citizens—to escape to the U.S. and third countries.

The State Department—which did not respond to The Dispatch’s request for comment yesterday—claimed in its latest report that “fewer than a dozen” Americans now remain in Taliban-occupied Afghanistan. But the administration’s earlier miscalculations—intentional or not—draw this week’s figures into question.

Bill Roggio, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and editor of its Long War Journal, believes the initial figure was driven by politics. “The ‘less than 100’ number was given to deaden the blow of criticism on abandoning Afghanistan,” he told The Dispatch. “Because how could you do that if there were around 500 American citizens, 500 legal residents? That’s a tough sell to the American people.” 

Worth Your Time

  • In a piece for Reason, Ronald Bailey tries to answer an age-old question: Why is it so hard in politics to admit when you’re wrong? “Today, if you are a member of one of the two major American political parties, you are statistically likely to dislike and distrust members of the other party,” he writes. “You’re also likely to be wrong about the characteristics of members of the other party, about what they actually believe, and even about their views of you. But you are trapped in a partisan prison by the psychological effects of confirmation bias. Being confronted with factual information that contradicts your previously held views does not change them, and it may even reinforce them. Vilification of the other party perversely leads partisans to behave in precisely the norm-violating and game-rigging ways they fear their opponents will. It’s a classic vicious cycle, and it’s accelerating. It also traps individuals within their preexisting worldviews.”

  • President Biden’s Supreme Court Commission submitted its final report last week, and at least two of its members have published thoughtful reflections on the process. In the Wall Street Journal, Keith Whittington writes on the dangers of court packing. “The erosion of constitutional norms isn’t easily contained once it begins—a problem we are already experiencing in many areas,” he writes. “When politicians see their political opponents sweep away constitutional obstructions, it decreases their own faith in the Constitution and their willingness to exercise self-restraint. The effect is unlikely to be limited to court packing.” And in a longer paper published on SSRN, William Baude reflects on his experience as a commissioner. “The biggest problem was the Federal Advisory Committee Act, a statue I had never thought much about, which required that all of the collective deliberations of the commission be done in public,” he writes. “Public meetings are both cumbersome and politically fraught, so to many people the more attractive alternative is to accomplish as much as possible through working groups, one-on-one conversations, and other interactions that fall outside of the statute. … The ironic effect of a statute designed to promote the transparency of the commission to outsiders was to instead dramatically reduce the transparency of the commission, even to its own members.”

  • In the New York Times, Dr. Monica Gandhi and Dr. Leslie Bienen argue it’s well past time to shift from cases to hospitalizations when it comes to assessing the state of the pandemic. “A positive case of Covid-19 doesn’t mean what it used to if you are vaccinated,” they write. “Most breakthrough infections, which will grow as the number of vaccinated people increases, so far remain mild. Although antibodies wane over time and may be affected by variants, T cells and B cells generated from vaccines should continue to offer protection against severe illness. Right now, in areas of high vaccination, an increase in cases does not necessarily signal a comparable increase in hospitalizations or deaths.”

Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Also Presented Without Comment

Toeing the Company Line

  • On Monday’s episode of Advisory Opinions, Sarah and David break down a very legally complicated Supreme Court ruling on Texas’ new abortion law and what it could mean for gun rights in California, discuss the Jussie Smollett verdict, and dive into the state of vaccine mandates.

Let Us Know

Do you think the January 6 Select Committee has the power to change anyone’s mind about the events of that day, or have opinions thoroughly ossified over the past year? 

Reporting by Declan Garvey (@declanpgarvey), Andrew Egger (@EggerDC), Charlotte Lawson (@lawsonreports), Audrey Fahlberg (@AudreyFahlberg), Ryan Brown (@RyanP_Brown), Harvest Prude (@HarvestPrude), and Steve Hayes (@stephenfhayes).

The Dispatch Staff's Headshot

The Dispatch Staff