House votes to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress
The House on Thursday voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee, a remarkable censure of the former Trump White House strategist that leaves the Department of Justice to weigh whether to pursue criminal charges.
The vote fell almost entirely along party lines, 229-202. Nine Republicans voted with every Democrat in favor of the resolution: Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pa.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), John Katko (N.Y.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Nancy Mace (S.C.), Peter Meijer (Mich.) and Fred Upton (Mich.). All but two of those Republicans voted to impeach former President Trump after the Jan. 6 insurrection.
The vote comes after Bannon refused to appear for a slated deposition with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Lawmakers on the panel argue the swift referral to the Justice Department is a necessary rebuke, as well as a warning to others subpoenaed by the committee that anyone refusing to cooperate will be met with a similar fate.
Prosecution by the Justice Department could mean a fine, jail time or both for Bannon.
The committee sought testimony from Bannon about his role in organizing the Jan. 6 rally where former President Trump spoke as well as his discussions with the White House — something members of the panel said could show a link between the former president and plans to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election results.
Members of the committee pointed to Bannon saying on his podcast the day before Jan. 6 that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow” and “now we’re on the point of attack,” as well as his involvement with the “Stop the Steal” campaign efforts.
“Mr. Bannon’s own public statements make clear he knew what was going to happen before it did. And thus, he must have been aware of and may well have been involved in the planning of everything that played out on that day,” Cheney, one of two Republican members of the Jan. 6 committee, said. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”
Democrats framed Bannon’s defiance as a dangerous precedent that could undermine both Congress and accountability under the law.
“We are here this afternoon to test a proposition as old as the country’s founding. Are we a nation of laws? We are here because one man has decided that we are now only a nation of men, and that rich and powerful men need not follow the law. And the question we must confront is nothing less than this: Is he right?” Rep Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) asked.
“Are some people now truly above the law, beholden to nothing and no one, free to ignore the law and without consequence?”
Bannon has refused to appear before the committee, arguing a case filed by Trump claiming executive privilege over any documents and seeking to block witness testimony should first be resolved by the courts.
But lawmakers on the committee and other legal experts see little merit to Trump’s suit—executive privilege is exercised by the sitting president, they say, while such a privilege wouldn’t apply to Bannon anyway as he had long been fired from his White House job before the time period in question.
President Biden has already waived executive privilege to a trove of Trump-era documents held by the National Archives that cover a wide range of communications between Trump, his wife, adult children, and a number of high-level aides and informal advisors to the president.
That suit is already scheduled for a hearing on Nov. 4.
But whether to prosecute Bannon now rests with DOJ, an entity that under the Biden administration has pledge to revamp its reputation as an independent agency that steers clear of politics.
“If the House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge, the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we’ll apply the facts and the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said at a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee just hours before the vote.
House GOP leaders took the step of formally advising their rank-and-file to vote against Thursday’s resolution, arguing that the select committee “has demonstrated it 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.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) called the move an “invalid subpoena” given that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of his picks for the committee after the party voted down a bill that would have created an independent bipartisan commission to investigate the attack on the Capitol.
“He has the right to go to the court to see if he has executive privilege or not,” McCarthy said of the Trump suit.
“I don’t know if he does or not but neither does the committee. So they’re weakening the power of Congress itself by issuing invalid subpoenas.”
Other Republicans sought to argue that Congress doesn’t have the authority to investigate matters that are not ultimately tied to legislation.
“The Congress has no authority to conduct criminal investigations,” said Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), one of two Republicans McCarthy appointed to the committee who were rejected by Pelosi.
“Congress can only issue subpoenas that serve a legislative purpose. The question the committee must answer is why are they seeking information about permitted political rally?”
Congressional committees are routinely given subpoena power, and Democrats have argued Bannon’s willful defiance of the committee could have been resolved simply by appearing and claiming a Fifth Amendment right refusing to testify in order to not incriminate himself.
Cheney, who Republicans ousted as their third-ranking member of leadership earlier this year for pushing back on Trump’s falsehoods about the election, said the committee’s investigation is relevant to considering potential legislation to prevent any future president from pressuring federal and state officials to overturn the election results.
“There are people in this chamber right now who were evacuated with me and with the rest of us on that day during that attack. People who now seem to have forgotten the danger of the moment, the assault on the Constitution, the assault on our Congress,” Cheney said.
Trump, meanwhile, has continued to actively downplay the violence on Jan. 6 and promote his false claims of election fraud.
Earlier Thursday, Trump issued a statement declaring that “the insurrection took place on November 3, Election Day” and that the events of Jan. 6 were “the protest.”
And the day before, Trump took direct aim at Cheney, the select committee’s vice chair, calling her a “smug fool” and “to look at her is to despise her.”
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