House GOP leaders urge ‘no’ vote on Bannon contempt
House Republican leaders have advised members to vote “no” on a coming vote to refer former Trump White House strategist Stephen Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution after he defied a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) made the recommendation at a conference meeting Wednesday morning, one day before the House is scheduled to take up the select committee’s recommendation.
“For the past ten months, several nonpartisan entities interested in investigating the attack on the Capitol Building have worked diligently to determine what went wrong and how to prevent it from happening again,” a whip notice released Wednesday evening reads, saying the committee “is more interested in pursuing a partisan agenda to politicize the January 6th attack rather than conducting a legitimate good faith investigation into the security failures leading up to and on that day.”
The Thursday vote before the full House would leave the Justice Department to pursue a fine, jail time or both for the former Trump strategist, who has been asked to testify about his involvement in planning for the rally at which Trump spoke on Jan. 6 shortly before his supporters marched across the National Mall.
The whip notice goes on to cast doubt over the reach of congressional power, saying that Congress’s authority “does not include law enforcement powers”
It also suggests Congress has no authority to issue subpoenas to seek information beyond that needed to legislate.
“Congress has a significant and important oversight power to secure needed information in order to legislate, however, Congress does not have enumerated constitutional powers to conduct investigations or issue subpoenas outside of that scope,” it says.
The argument goes beyond that made by Bannon, who did not question the committee’s authority but said he should not have to appear before the committee before Trump’s efforts to block testimony through executive privilege claims are heard in court.
The Jan. 6 committee has identified Bannon as a key figure in its investigation, arguing he appears to have substantial information about planning around the rally where Trump spoke before encouraging his supporters to “fight like hell.”
Democrats on Thursday will argue Trump cannot assert executive privilege after leaving office, particularly over someone not under his employment at the time in question.
Shortly after the conference meeting Wednesday, Reps. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) offered a defense of Bannon as the House Rules Committee, which sets the terms of debate, voted to forward the resolution on Bannon.
“The actions of the Jan. 6 committee, I believe, are a complete assault on Americans’ liberty,” Jordan said, adding that it is inappropriate to subpoena those who had applied for a permit for the rallies or to ask major tech and social media companies to preserve records of those discussing Jan. 6.
House Rules Committee ranking member Tom Cole (R-Okla.) also dismissed the vote as part of “the House majority’s political agenda.”
“Unfortunately this resolution comes to us as a result of an inherently political process driven by an inherently political select committee. Today’s action is unusual to say the least. One of the fundamental questions we should all ask is, should Congress be investigating a private citizen?” he said.
Updated at 5:35 p.m.