National Security

Jan. 6 panel votes to hold Bannon in contempt

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol voted unanimously Tuesday to refer former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal charges, teeing up a full House vote Thursday to hold Bannon in contempt for defying a congressional subpoena.

 

The move comes after Bannon refused to provide documents to the committee or appear for a slated deposition following an assertion from former President Trump that he would challenge the committee on executive privilege grounds.

Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) opened the hearing by stressing that Bannon "stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena."

"It's a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position. But we won't take 'no' for an answer. We believe Mr. Bannon has information relevant to our probe, and we'll use the tools at our disposal to get that information," he said.

"I want to make it clear just how isolated Mr. Bannon is in his refusal to cooperate with the Select Committee. We have reached out to dozens of witnesses. We are taking in thousands of pages of records. We are conducting interviews on a steady basis. This is the shoe-leather work of conducting a serious, focused investigation," he added.

It will ultimately be up to the Justice Department to file charges against Bannon, something that could result in a fine, jail time or both.

A criminal contempt report released by the panel late Monday laid out multiple attempts by the committee to seek compliance from Bannon, only to be repeatedly rebuffed by his attorney, Bob Costello.

It also offers new insight into the information the committee was seeking from Bannon, including any possible ties to extremist groups such as the Proud Boys and Oath Keepers.

It also asks for information about his coordination with another figure who was subpoenaed, Kash Patel, who was then serving as the chief of staff to acting Defense Secretary Christopher Miller, as well as Rep. Scott Perry (R-Pa.), who was recently highlighted as a key figure in Trump's pressure campaign on the Justice Department in the waning days of his presidency, according to a report from the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"Until such time as you reach an agreement with President Trump or receive a court ruling as to the extent, scope and application of the executive privilege ... Mr. Bannon will not be producing documents or testifying," Costello wrote the committee the day before Bannon was scheduled to testify.

Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney (R-Ky.) said Bannon stands to offer considerable information to the committee.

"Based on the Committee's investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans.  Mr. Bannon was in the war room at the Willard on January 6th. He also appears to have detailed knowledge regarding the President's efforts to sell millions of Americans the fraud that the election was stolen," she said.

She also sought to poke holes in his executive privilege argument, saying no such claim could shield Bannon from testifying on all topics under the subpoena.

"Mr. Bannon's and Mr. Trump's privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however:  they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that," Cheney said.

Trump filed his suit against the committee and the National Archives on Monday, challenging a sweeping records request seeking documents and communications from within the White House "relating in any way" to Trump's wife, children, and a litany of aides and informal advisers within Trump's orbit.

President Biden recently waived executive privilege over the trove of documents, with White House counsel Dana Remus citing "unique and extraordinary circumstances."

The committee has strongly pushed back on any claims to executive privilege.

"First, virtually all the documents and testimony sought by the subpoena concern Mr. Bannon's actions as a private citizen and involve a broad range of subjects that are not covered by executive privilege," Thompson wrote to Costello in early October.

"Even if your client has been a senior aide to the president during the period covered by the contemplated testimony, which he was most assuredly not, he is not permitted by law to the type of immunity you suggest Mr. Trump has requested he assert," he added.

The committee also denied a last-minute attempt by Bannon to delay the vote given Trump's lawsuit.

Others facing subpoenas, including Patel and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, are said to be "engaging" with the committee.

But lawmakers have stressed anyone who ultimately refuses to cooperate with the committee will face the same repercussions as Bannon.

"I want other witnesses to understand something very plainly: If you're thinking of following the path Mr. Bannon has gone down, you're on notice that this is what you'll face," Thompson said.

"We will be back in this room, with a new report, with the names of whoever else mistakenly believes they are above the law," he added.

The White House has stressed the decision of whether to prosecute Bannon will rest solely with the Justice Department.

"We no longer have a sycophant for Donald Trump as the Attorney General of the United States. We have a real attorney general and I know that he will follow what the law is, and that's all we're after," Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said after the meeting.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) said that despite other cases in which the Biden administration has sought to preserve executive privilege, he felt confident it would seriously consider charges.

"All I can say is that I'm very encouraged by what we have seen from the Justice Department and the administration thus far," Schiff said.

"The administration like any administration wants to make sure to protect the prerogative of the executive, but here they have made it clear now in multiple ways that the public interest in getting to the bottom of a bloody insurrection outweighs any considerations of privilege, and again, I just underscore with Bannon, we're not really talking about privilege here," he added.

Legal experts have said that if the Justice Department is reluctant to file charges, the committee may instead have to pursue a civil suit.

"It's the less aggressive approach that might be effective," Barbara McQuade, who served as a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration, previously told The Hill.

"Prosecutors in general and [Attorney General Merrick] Garland in particular tend to look for the path of least resistance. I don't need to use the nuclear weapon if the conventional weapon will work," she added.

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