How Mark Meadows Became the Least Trusted Man in Washington

On most Monday mornings, Mark Meadows commutes from his home in South Carolina to his workplace in Washington. He flies first class and travels light, moving briskly through Reagan airport, sometimes accompanied by his wife, Debbie, or by weekend guests, like his close friend and fellow archconservative Representative Jim Jordan, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. He is then ferried to the Capitol Hill headquarters of the Conservative Partnership Institute, or C.P.I., the nonprofit right-wing hub Meadows joined a week after Donald Trump left office.

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Even without the knowledge that his annual salary as a senior partner at C.P.I. is $847,000, and that he purchased his house overlooking Lake Keowee for $1.6 million six months after the Trump administration came to an end, it would be natural to conclude that Meadows, the 64-year-old former White House chief of staff, is doing very well for himself. His public appearances, though far fewer than before — he was spotted at the Capitol in October during Jordan’s unsuccessful campaign to be speaker of the House, for example — reveal the same tactile Southern congeniality that Meadows honed to perfection during his days as a real estate agent in North Carolina. For those who have known Meadows for a long time, including those who harbor a powerful dislike of him, his air of breezy prosperity is not at all incongruent with the crisis that currently looms over him. The Mark Meadows they know has always been a peerless escape artist, ever ascending over the bridges he has burned.

But his familiar guile is now facing its greatest test. In August, a grand jury in Fulton County, Ga., indicted Meadows on charges related to his alleged participation in a racketeering scheme to overturn Georgia’s 2020 presidential election results and keep Trump in office. Two months later, Katherine Faulders of ABC News broke the story that Meadows had been furtively speaking with prosecutors in the federal case being pursued against Trump by the Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith. The possibility that the former president’s closest White House aide — a man with unsurpassed access to Trump during the final months of his presidency — might be seeking to wriggle out of further trouble by supplying damning information to prosecutors, and perhaps even testifying against Trump at trial, suggested a seemingly inescapable choice for Meadows: prison time or career suicide.

As soon as the ABC News story broke, Meadows called his friend Jordan to insist it wasn’t true, according to someone Jordan later told about the conversation. (Through a spokesman, Jordan denied speaking to Meadows about the matter.) Meadows’s attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, publicly disputed the story’s accuracy. Some Trump affiliates suggested to me that Meadows had merely gotten by with the minimum in complying with a federal subpoena, and that this by itself did not prove he was a rat.

Still, Meadows’s murky status has been a source of consternation in Trump world. Two close associates of the former president acknowledged to me that opinions in that community were sharply divided on the matter of Meadows’s fidelity. Another Trump confidant conveyed to me the suspicion that Meadows was wearing a wire. In addressing the possibility that his former chief of staff had cut a deal to avoid a prison sentence, Trump confessed uncertainty about the matter on his social media platform, Truth Social, in a way that was most unlike him, posting on Oct. 24: “Some people would make that deal, but they are weaklings and cowards, and so bad for the future our Failing Nation. I don’t think that Mark Meadows is one of them, but who really knows?”

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