One of former President Trump’s most loyal allies has found himself in the awkward spot of potentially turning his back on his former boss — culminating a complicated relationship that dates back to Trump’s early days in the White House.
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, a key ally to Trump in Congress turned top operative in the White House, reportedly talked to a grand jury as part of special counsel Jack Smith’s investigation into the former president’s handling of classified documents.
It marks the latest iteration in the political relationship between Trump and the North Carolina Republican, who some say got himself in situations where he bit off more than he could chew.
“I think Mark was always in over his head from the Freedom Caucus to the White House. Way too big for his britches,” said a former senior Trump campaign staffer. “[The Department of Justice] doesn’t usually like people with that attitude so not surprised if they went after him. But also, not surprised he’d take a plea deal to avoid prison.”
“Now he’s just another body on the Trump trail,” the source added.
Then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows addresses reporters after meeting with then-Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, then-Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and then-Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) to discuss the next coronavirus relief bill Aug. 5, 2020. (Greg Nash)
Meadows was the chief of staff during some of the most tumultuous of Trump times, particularly during efforts to overturn the 2020 election and on Jan. 6 when a mob of pro-Trump supporters stormed the Capitol, both of which are part of Smith’s investigation.
Some of the most damning testimony before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot involved Meadows, whose image took a beating when a former aide detailed that the former congressman spent moments leading up to the violence scrolling on his phone and declining to intervene in key moments. While Meadows’s role in Jan. 6 has been documented by others, he refused to testify before the panel.
Smith, who was appointed in November, also met with Trump’s legal team this week. It’s left Washington watching for his next move after multiple reports emerged that he was nearing the end of his investigation and that Trump was informed he was the target of an investigation.
Questions have been swirling over how much of a role Meadows had in Trump taking classified documents from the White House, which was part of a simmering fight that began with the National Archives discovering that certain presidential documents, including classified ones, had not been turned over as required.
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A person familiar with the matter said Trump and Meadows have not been especially close for much of the last year, with Meadows in particular staying out of the public eye since the former president left office.
Their frayed 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 with Newsmax in December 2021 that the claim from his own book was “fake news” — mimicking Trump’s often-used phrase for reports that cast him in a negative light.
One former Trump administration official privy to the whole arc of the Meadows-Trump relationship called the former chief of staff a victim in the situation.
“Mark Meadows is, at his core, a southern Christian gentlemen. He is also a true movement conservative. As with any of the principled people who have tried to serve President Trump, eventually your cardinal principles clash with a man who has no basic moorings or beliefs apart from his own caprice or base interests,” the source said.
“Having watched some of the most respected military leaders of a generation fail to square that circle, I’m not surprised at all to see Meadows as its latest victim.”
Meadows was first elected to Congress in 2012 and chaired the Freedom Caucus, of which he was a founding member, from 2017 to 2019 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 and John Kelly.
Meadows eventually became the first White House chief of staff since Watergate to be held in contempt of Congress for not testifying on the Jan. 6 riots.
His legacy will largely include his work to reverse the 2020 election results in Georgia in particular. He visited Georgia in December 2020 to observe a post-election audit and he participated in the now-infamous January 2021 call between Trump and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger when the former president asked him to “find” 11,780 more votes.
Leading up to the legal troubles with his former boss, Meadows’s loyalty to Trump came back to bite him at times.
The Jan. 6 hearings, which included damaging testimony from his former aide Cassidy Hutchinson, displayed him as a major part of the key moments leading up to the violence of the day.
Ex-White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in testimony in December 2022 that former first lady Melania Trump was angry with Meadows ahead of Jan. 6, accusing him of giving Trump bad advice and giving access to people who may be harmful to the former president.
Meanwhile, former Vice President Mike Pence, a Republican presidential hopeful, said last year he was “disappointed” in Meadows’s performance at the end of the Trump administration and accused him of not serving the president well.
Now, with a federal indictment of Trump possibly imminent, Meadows’s lawyer George Terwilliger told The New York Times, “Mr. Meadows has maintained a commitment to tell the truth where he has a legal obligation to do so.”
He wouldn’t comment on whether or not Meadows testified before the grand jury, but reports have indicated Meadows is a witness in Smith’s investigation.
Brett Samuels contributed to this report.