A federal judge has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to clarify whether former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows is immune to a congressional subpoena issued by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, unrest at the Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols' inquiry comes nearly a month after the DOJ said it would not prosecute Meadows — former President Donald Trump's chief of staff — for contempt of Congress, despite the House referring him for criminal charges for defying the Select Committee's subpoena.
Nichols is currently presiding over a civil suit Meadows filed against the House committee last year, challenging its subpoena. The judge's brief order issued on Thursday seemingly gives the DOJ the option of declining to weigh in on the matter.
In his letter to the DOJ, Nichols sought clarity on the agency's "view as to whether Plaintiff is entitled to absolute or qualified testimonial immunity from the subpoena at issue in this case."
If the DOJ responds to Nichols, it might become the first public explanation of why it chose to spare Meadows from prosecution, while filing criminal contempt charges against former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon, formerly a senior strategist with former President Trump.
The Justice Department also declined to charge Dan Scavino, Trump's social media guru, for defying a House committee subpoena.
In his legal case against the Jan. 6 panel, Meadows cited a department advisory legal memorandum, dating back to the 1980s, asserting that senior White House officials enjoy "absolute immunity" from congressional subpoenas.
With the House panel wrapping up its hearings, it's unclear whether lawmakers will be able to secure any sort of substantive testimony, or glean more information involving Meadows' status.
Earlier this month, Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the chairman and vice chairwoman of the Select Committee, respectively, knocked the DOJ for its decision.
"While today's indictment of Peter Navarro was the correct decision by the Justice Department, we find the decision to reward Mark Meadows and Dan Scavino for their continued attack on the rule of law puzzling," Thompson and Cheney said in a joint statement on June 3.
"Mr. Meadows and Mr. Scavino unquestionably have relevant knowledge about President Trump's role in the efforts to overturn the 2020 election and the events of January 6th. We hope the Department provides greater clarity on this matter."
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