It was about 2 p.m. on Jan. 6, 2021. Mark Meadows sat on a couch in his West Wing office, alone, scrolling through his cellphone. Across Washington from the White House, supporters of President Donald J. Trump were approaching the Capitol, protesting the certification of Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s Electoral College victory.
“Are you watching the TV, chief?” Cassidy Hutchinson, a top aide to Mr. Meadows, the White House chief of staff, recalled asking him. “The rioters are getting really close. Have you talked to the president?”
No, Mr. Meadows replied, his eyes fixed on his phone. Mr. Trump, he went on, “wants to be alone right now.”
Ms. Hutchinson’s account of a chief of staff who was at best disengaged and at worst overwhelmed by the events around him was a key part of her public appearance on Tuesday at a hastily scheduled hearing by the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot, and what led to it.
Another aide to Mr. Meadows, Ben Williamson, provided a different assessment, saying in testimony to the House committee that Mr. Meadows was responsive when Mr. Williamson said there was a problem. “Any suggestion he didn’t care is ludicrous,” Mr. Williamson said in a statement on Wednesday.
Lawyers for Ms. Hutchinson said on Wednesday that she stood by her testimony. Yet even without Ms. Hutchinson’s recollections, a number of Mr. Meadows’s former colleagues and people who were interacting with him as the riot unfolded painted a portrait of an ineffective chief of staff as a violent scene developed at the Capitol.
When he hired Mr. Meadows in March 2020, Mr. Trump gleefully told allies that he had found his James A. Baker III, a White House chief of staff under President Ronald Reagan and the person many successors have tried to emulate as the gold standard for running a West Wing.
Yet within months, as the coronavirus pandemic raged and the economy that Mr. Trump prided himself on cratered, Mr. Meadows became known among many of his colleagues as someone who spoke out of both sides of his mouth. He encouraged Mr. Trump’s disgust with calling for increased mandates for masks, mocked the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and, according to former colleagues, waged petty fights internally with aides he believed were not following his authority.
But instead of playing the role of gatekeeper and bringing order to a chaotic West Wing, Mr. Meadows was often criticized by associates as terrified of Mr. Trump’s temper and eager to please him.
After the election, Mr. Meadows played a key role in encouraging House Republicans to look at ways to subvert Mr. Biden’s victory.
Mr. Meadows called or texted Georgia’s secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, 18 times to arrange a call with Mr. Trump, and he made a trip to the state to look at the inspection of voting machines up close. He was in frequent contact with Trump supporters urging him to fight the outcome, including Virginia Thomas, the wife of Justice Clarence Thomas.
Over the course of his tenure, Mr. Meadows helped create a rift between Mr. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, according to a handful of former White House officials, by inserting himself into tasks that the vice president would historically perform.
“I think that Mark would often say to me that he was working to try and get the president to concede and accept the results of the election,” Marc Short, Mr. Pence’s former chief of staff, told CBS News’s “Face the Nation” recently.
“And at the same time, it was clear he was bringing in lots of other people into the White House that were feeding the president different conspiracy theories,” Mr. Short said. “I think that Mark was telling different audiences all sorts of different stories.”
On election night, as Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, wanted to encourage the president to declare victory long before all the votes had been counted, Mr. Meadows and three other aides rejected the idea as stupid. But within days, Mr. Meadows began exchanging messages with his former House colleagues.
“I love it,” Mr. Meadows replied to a suggestion from Representative Andy Biggs, Republican of Arizona, on Nov. 5, 2020, about a plan to push legislatures in key states that Mr. Trump had lost to appoint so-called alternate electors to send to Congress.
Within weeks of that text exchange, Mr. Meadows reassured Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, that, despite his repeated public statements that the election was stolen from him, Mr. Trump would eventually concede the election.
At the same time, Mr. Meadows continued to allow people into the White House who were encouraging Mr. Trump to take actions that could undermine the results of the election. And he forwarded conspiracy theories about the election to senior administration officials to check out.
Yet on Dec. 18, 2020, Mr. Meadows was among the Trump advisers who opposed a band of outside Trump supporters — including Michael T. Flynn, the former national security adviser — who urged Mr. Trump to authorize the government seizure of voting machines to search for election fraud.
Finally, Mr. Meadows continued to look to Jan. 6, 2021, as the last option for Mr. Trump. Yet as the events of that day unfolded, his colleagues said at the time, Mr. Meadows seemed completely overwhelmed, at times to the point of paralysis. He reached out to Ivanka Trump to come downstairs from her office to try to implore her father to ask the rioters to stop, which she did, but it took hours for her to succeed in getting him to do so.
Key Revelations From the Jan. 6 Hearings
Ms. Hutchinson described Mr. Meadows as aware that the situation that day — as Mr. Trump planned for a rally that he tweeted would be “wild” — could get “bad,” among the most damning pieces of her testimony about her former boss.
She also said Mr. Meadows had sought a pardon for himself at one point, something that a current aide to Mr. Meadows denied.
At another point during her appearance on Capitol Hill, Ms. Hutchinson described a moment that seemed to capture Mr. Meadows’s willingness to give in to Mr. Trump’s wishes. She recalled picking up Mr. Meadows’s ringing phone on Jan. 6 after Mr. Meadows had left his office and gone to see Mr. Trump.
It was Representative Jim Jordan calling, and she brought the phone with her to connect the Ohio Republican to Mr. Meadows, she recounted. He took it, then joined her back at his office with the White House counsel, Pat A. Cipollone, and possibly another lawyer, Eric Herschmann.
“I remember Pat saying something to the effect of, Mark, we need to do something more,” she said, noting that the crowd was chanting for Mr. Pence to be hanged.
Mr. Meadows, she said, responded to the effect of, “You heard him, Pat. He thinks Mike deserves it,” referring to Mr. Trump’s feelings about Mr. Pence. “He doesn’t think they’re doing anything wrong.”