â€œThe Department of Justice has a duty to act on this referral and others that we have sent,â€ said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.). â€œWithout enforcement of congressional subpoenas, there is no oversight, and without oversight, no accountability â€” for the former president, or any other president, past, present, or future. Without enforcement of its lawful process, Congress ceases to be a co-equal branch of government.â€
Schiffâ€™s comments were echoed by several other members of the panel and reflected a veiled frustration about the departmentâ€™s silence on Meadows, whom the House voted to hold in contempt in December. Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said the Justice Department should â€œnot apply any doctrine of immunity that might block Congress from fully uncovering and addressing the causes of the January 6th attack.â€ Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) said that the select committee was doing its job and that â€œthe Department of Justice needs to do theirs.â€
â€œAttorney General Garland, do your job so we can do ours,â€ said Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.).
The committee members have long counted on the Justice Department and Attorney General Merrick Garland to back them up as they confront a long list of recalcitrant witnesses who refuse to discuss their roles in or knowledge of then-President Donald Trumpâ€™s effort to overturn the 2020 election. And it seemed, at first, that they had gotten the support they were seeking.
The department moved quickly to criminally charge former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in November, just three weeks after the House held him in contempt for defying a select committee subpoena. The contempt charges against Bannon, who is slated to face trial in July, were a jolt of support for the committee that members said quickly became a crucial lever to compel other witnesses to testify.
But the Justice Department has moved more slowly with Meadows, who actively worked in Trumpâ€™s White House on Jan. 6, 2021, and was involved in some of the highest-level discussions related to overturning the election. Meadows, though, briefly cooperated with the select committee and shared thousands of emails and text messages that have become central pieces of evidence in the committeeâ€™s probe. Those talks ultimately broke down, and Meadows refused to appear for a deposition, leading the House to hold him in contempt.
A Justice Department spokesperson declined to comment on the committee membersâ€™ statements or the status of its review of the Meadows referral.
The lawmakers juxtaposed their frustration with the department with a remarkable ruling from a federal judge in California earlier in the day. U.S. District Court Judge David Carter determined that Trump likely entered a criminal conspiracy to obstruct Congress on Jan. 6. Had he succeeded, Carter wrote, American democracy would have effectively ended.
Multiple members of the committee â€” including Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), Cheney and Schiff â€” quoted from Carterâ€™s ruling as they moved to hold Navarro and Scavino in contempt.