ASHEVILLE - A former aide's damning testimony about Mark Meadows' role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack is causing many to ask about consequences for the Donald Trump White House chief of staff and ex-Western North Carolina congressman.
Cassidy Hutchinson's June 28 testimony to the House select committee, including her boss' indifference to marchers being armed with AR-15s, raised questions the next day about whether the revelations would lead to prosecution.
Local experts disagreed, with some saying not bringing charges amounts to negligence by the Department of Justice.
"If Meadows is not indicted, and subsequently convicted, there is something fundamentally wrong with our legal system," said Mark Gibney an attorney and distinguished professor of humanities and political science at UNC Asheville.
But despite testimony that showed Meadows at least complacent in a plot to overthrow the election and a deadly invasion of the country's legislature, Catawba College political science professor Mike Bitzer said what DOJ officials will do is still up in the air.
"I think they've got a lot on their plate to consider. And Meadows may be one of several involved in any prosecution that DOJ decides to pursue," Bitzer said June 29 a day after the explosive committee hearing that featured only one live witness, Hutchinson, and centered much of the action around Meadows.
Prior reporting on the Jan. 6 committee hearings:
Meadows has not commented, with his spokesperson Ben Williamson not responding to messages June 28-29.
Along with apparent inaction over intelligence about heavily armed protesters, Hutchinson said Meadows also refused to ask Trump to make a statement after the mob chanted that Vice President Mike Pence should be hanged and when the Capitol was invaded.
When Meadows faced an alarmed White House counsel to the president Pat Cipollone calling for the chief of staff to go to Trump, Meadows declined, saying the president thought "Mike deserved it. He doesn't think they're doing anything wrong," Hutchinson told the committee under oath.
The select committee has no power to bring criminal charges. But a separate DOJ investigation has taken dramatic action after new information brought to light by committee hearings.
Federal agents seized the phone of lawyer and alleged coup architect John Eastman and searched the home of ex-DOJ official Jeffrey Clark to whom Trump offered the position of acting attorney general if he would politicize the department and push false election fraud claims. The feds have also subpoenaed Georgia, Arizona and Michigan Trump campaign and Republican party officials who, like Eastman, worked to supplant their states' rightful Joe Biden electors with fake Trump electors in a move to flip the Electoral College result.
And even though justice officials have not charged Meadows with contempt of Congress, as they did others who refused the committee's subpoenas to testify, such as former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro and Trump ally Steve Bannon, there now looks to be more evidence against Meadows, said Gibney.
"The testimony about his complete indifference to having armed insurgents ready to march to the capitol was chilling. I am thinking sedition charges, myself," the professor and attorney said
Fellow UNCA political science professor Ashley Moraguez, who specializes in American political institutions and Congress, said potential charges could be "along the lines of obstruction of congressional proceedings and conspiracy to defraud the United States."
"I think it's likely that the Department of Justice will be investigating Meadows for criminal action, if they haven't begun to already, and such an investigation could result in charges being brought against him," Moraguez said.
Putting him in legal jeopardy is testimony Meadows possessed intelligence that Jan. 6 could turn violent, that he supported Trump's plan to go to the Capitol that day, that he did very little to stop the violence once it started and that he asked for a pardon, she said.
"I think there is a strong case to be made against him here."
Others, though, were less sure or expressed doubt Meadows would be charged.
"I think that is the great unknown at this point," Bitzer said, noting that the testimony put Meadows in a very bad light, "if nothing else than for complacency or failure to stand up to the President."
"As the hearings continue, we are getting closer and closer to understanding the inner workings of the Trump Oval Office," the Catawba College instructor said.
Western Carolina University political science professor Chris Cooper said Hutchinson's testimony marked "an inflection point" in Meadow's political career.
"The best spin on his role in Jan. 6 from (the June 28) testimony would be that he was aware of the increasing violence and refused to act. The most damning spin would be that he not only was aware, but helped create the violence that occurred on Jan. 6," he said.
Cooper said he expected the tension between those views to be resolved as more is learned in future hearings.
"With all that said, I think the biggest consequences for Meadows will be waning influence and lack of a political future. I would be surprised if Mark Meadows faced critical prosecution for his role in January 6."
Todd Collins, also an instructor in WCU's political science department, said the picture portrayed of Meadows was someone remaining hands off, "in effect saying 'Trump will be Trump,'
"Meadows appears to be content to let the events happen or, at worst, tacitly supportive of the riot that ensued."
That still may not be enough to prosecute, Collins said. But he noted more important evidence may come to light.
"If facts come out about allegations of evidence tampering or witness intimidation, then there could be some type of criminal charge."
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He's written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Got a tip? Contact Burgess at email@example.com, 828-713-1095 or on Twitter @AVLreporter. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Jan. 6 hearings: Will ex-Trump chief, WNC Rep. Meadows be charged?