The Memo: Democrats may rue pursuit of Bannon

Democrats and other critics of former President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger welcomes baby boy Tennessee lawmaker presents self-defense bill in 'honor' of Kyle Rittenhouse Five things to know about the New York AG's pursuit of Trump MORE celebrated when criminal charges were leveled against Stephen Bannon late last week.

But the political downside of the pursuit of Bannon is becoming clearer by the day.

There’s no guarantee that the underlying purpose of the prosecution — to compel Bannon to cooperate with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection — will work.


Bannon may ultimately prefer the risk of a fairly short jail sentence, and the martyrdom it would confer on him from Trump supporters, over testifying.

Even if he were to cooperate, the question then becomes whether the public will learn anything more damning than it already knows about Bannon and his former boss.

After all, Bannon said on his podcast the day before the riot that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” And Trump’s central role in inciting the insurrection was so blatant that he became the first president in American history to be impeached twice.

Above all, the criminal case has given Bannon the biggest platform he has enjoyed in years.

The news that he had been indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress on Friday was the lead story on the websites of The New York Times and other leading news organizations.

Bannon’s initial court appearance on Monday was another media circus, with network newscasts running footage of Trump’s former chief White House strategist lambasting the prosecution and President BidenJoe BidenBiden says he didn't 'overpromise' Finland PM pledges 'extremely tough' sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine Russia: Nothing less than NATO expansion ban is acceptable MORE. Bannon live streamed his comments outside the court on the social network Gettr, a favorite among pro-Trump conservatives.

On Thursday, Bannon will get another bite of the publicity cherry if, as expected, he is formally arraigned.


Bannon “revels in it. He loves it,” said Allan Lichtman, a professor of history at American University, who compared the former Trump aide’s zeal for media attention to that of another associate of the former president, Roger StoneRoger Jason StoneDemocrats differ over how Biden should handle Jan. 6 anniversary Alex Jones suing Pelosi and Jan. 6 panel, planning to plead the Fifth Photos of the Week: Tornado aftermath, Medal of Honor and soaring superheroes MORE.

Bannon’s ardor for the spotlight is well known throughout Washington — including among reporters who find him more personally engaging than his sinister public persona suggests.

He had seemed to be a marginalized figure after Trump disowned him back in early 2018 following the publication of a damaging book by the journalist Michael Wolff. But Bannon ultimately made his way back into Trump’s good graces, conferring with him following the then-president’s election loss last year.

Now, in seeking to get details of what exactly was said between Trump and Bannon, the former aide’s adversaries have restored him to the center of the political stage. From there, he is sure to amplify Trump's fictions about election fraud, among other things.

But does all of that mean that Democrats and Merrick GarlandMerrick GarlandMellman: Voting rights or the filibuster?  A new Bureau of Prisons director gives administration a chance to live up to promises  Lawmakers coming under increased threats — sometimes from one another MORE’s Department of Justice (DOJ) are wrong to have pressed the case against him?

Not necessarily.

The DOJ would presumably not pursue the case if it was not confident of conviction. Announcing the indictment, Garland said he was honoring a promise to "show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law."

Allowing Trump and Bannon together to thumb their noses at a congressional inquiry into the grave attack on the Capitol was simply unacceptable for most Democrats and many other Trump critics.

Reps. Bennie ThompsonBennie Gordon ThompsonJan. 6 panel subpoenas phone records associated with Eric Trump, Kimberly Guilfoyle: report Jan. 6 panel subpoenas Rudy Giuliani, Sidney Powell Trump lawyers to Supreme Court: Jan. 6 committee 'will not be harmed by delay' MORE (D-Miss.) and Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyKinzinger welcomes baby boy The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Democrats see victory in a voting rights defeat Left laughs off floated changes to 2024 ticket MORE (R-Wyo.), the chairman and vice chairwoman of the Jan. 6 committee said in a statement that the indictment “should send a clear signal to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: No one is above the law.”

Some prominent Democrats were even more emphatic.

The indictment showed “that even the insurrectionist allies of Donald Trump are not above the law and the American justice system is back in business,” Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinCarville advises Democrats to 'quit being a whiny party' Biden makes final Fed board picks House Democrats inquire about possible census undercount in Detroit, other communities MORE (D-Md.) tweeted.

“Welcome back to the rule of law,” Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellThere's no such thing as 'absolute immunity' for former presidents The Hill's 12:30 Report: Biden strategizes with Senate Dems The Hill's 12:30 Report: 2021 ends with 40-year inflation high MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted as the news of Bannon’s indictment broke.

But, for Democrats, the problem is that the enemy — Bannon and the GOP — gets a vote too.

In Bannon’s case, that means characteristically pugnacious rhetoric outside the courthouse about how he is “taking down the Biden regime” and how his criminal prosecution is going to be “the misdemeanor from hell” for Biden, Garland and others.


More substantively, the door is now open to future use of the same process by Republicans at whatever point they win back control of Congress — an outcome that looks odds-on to happen a year from now.

Some Trump loyalists are already salivating at the prospect.

“Joe Biden has eviscerated Executive Privilege,” Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanRand Paul cancels DirecTV subscription after it drops OAN Sunday shows preview: Democrats' struggle for voting rights bill comes to a head GOP's McCarthy has little incentive to work with Jan. 6 panel MORE (R-Ohio) tweeted on Friday.

Referring to key Biden aides, he added, “There are a lot of Republicans eager to hear testimony from Ron KlainRon KlainThe Memo: Biden's overpromising problem Federal vaccine mandate enters 'major question' land The Memo: No more 'the former guy' as Biden tackles Trump head-on MORE and Jake SullivanJake SullivanWhite House says Russia could launch attack in Ukraine 'at any point' Blinken stresses 'unshakable' US commitment to Ukraine in call with Russian counterpart Texas hostage-taker was known to British security officials MORE when we take back the House.”

House Republican Conference Chairwoman Elise StefanikElise Marie StefanikHouse GOP campaign arm rakes in 0M in 2021 JD Vance raises more than million in second fundraising quarter for Ohio Senate bid US looks to ward off Ukraine conflict in talks with Russia MORE (R-N.Y.) complained, also on Twitter, that during former President ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaDemocrats make final plea for voting rights ahead of filibuster showdown Biden nominates Jane Hartley as ambassador to UK To boost economy and midterm outlook, Democrats must pass clean energy bill MORE’s time in office, both former Attorney General Eric HolderEric Himpton HolderState courts become battlegrounds in redistricting fights New Hampshire Republicans advance map with substantially redrawn districts Michigan redistricting spat exposes competing interests in Democratic coalition MORE and former IRS official Lois Lerner were held in contempt of Congress and “no indictments or arrests were made.”

Even some Republicans critical of Trump question whether the precedents currently being set will have bad consequences further down the line.

“This is dangerous ground,” said Rick Tyler, a GOP strategist who has been strongly critical of Trump for years. “It’s tit-for-tat. When you have power, you don’t use it to govern, you use it to exact revenge from your political enemies.”


Others, including Lichtman, counter by saying that Democrats need to show some determination in their pursuit of figures such as Bannon.

“One of the failings of the Democrats is that they don’t have much of a backbone,” he said. “Republicans are ruthless, they will do whatever it takes.”

Democrats are trying to take a page from that playbook now.

But the risks are higher than they might have imagined.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage.