January 6 panel moves to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt
The committee investigating the January 6 Capitol Hill riot announced Thursday it is moving forward to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena, as his game of chicken with the House panel now enters a new and critical phase. © Stephanie Keith/Getty Images NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 20: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Bannon and three other defendants have been indicted for allegedly defrauding donors in a $25 million border wall fundraising campaign.
The House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol formally approved holding Steve Bannon, one of former President Donald Trump's closest allies, in contempt of Congress on Tuesday night, setting up a key House vote later this week. © Pool
Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told CNN on Tuesday that he expects the full House to vote on criminal contempt charges for Bannon before the end of the week, and a source familiar with the floor schedule told CNN the plan is for the the chamber to vote on the referral on Thursday. After the full House vote, it would then get referred to the Justice Department.
The Jan. 6 committee will vote to hold Bannon in contempt. Here's what we know
Bannon served a prominent role in Donald Trump's first campaign, then in the White House. Trump and Bannon stayed in touch ahead of the Capitol riot.Now, the committee is ramping up its efforts to compel him to testify and deter others they have subpoenaed from not cooperating.
The criminal contempt report was approved and moves to the floor without any opposition from the committee members and marks a critical milestone in the investigation as the panel hopes even the remote threat of jail time inspires more Trump-aligned witnesses to cooperate.
On Tuesday night, members of the committee blasted Bannon for refusing to cooperate with the panel's probe and said he is "isolated" in doing so as other witnesses are working with the panel.
During Tuesday's committee meeting where lawmakers formally declared Bannon should face criminal contempt charges, Thompson and vice chairwoman, Republican Rep Liz Cheney of Wyoming, once again rejected Bannon's claim of executive privilege. Cheney, during her opening remarks, went further telling members that Bannon and Trump's executive privilege arguments suggest the former President was "personally involved" in the planning and execution of January 6.
January 6 committee votes to hold Steve Bannon in contempt
Steve Bannon's contempt charges will now go to the full House for a vote. If it is approved there, DOJ has final say on prosecuting Bannon. Bannon's attorneys formally notified the committee of his intention to refuse investigators' requests last week, citing executive privilege. The committee then announced its plans to hold Bannon in contempt. Bannon was not a White House staffer on or before Jan. 6, having left the administration years earlier.
Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress would be guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months imprisonment. But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time -- though the House's pursuit of criminal charges may be more about making an example out of Bannon and sending a message to other potential witnesses.
The contempt report, which was released Monday night, outlines the efforts the committee made to get a witness to comply with the subpoena, and the failure by the witness to do so.
Ahead of its business meeting Tuesday night, the committee released new correspondence detailing that Bannon's lawyer wrote to the committee asking to delay Tuesday's meeting in light of Trump filing his lawsuit against the National Archives.
"In light of this late filing, we respectfully request a one-week adjournment," Bannon's lawyer, Robert J. Costello, wrote on Monday.
'The stakes are enormous:' Bannon case tests Congress' power
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. House is expected to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress. It's up to the Justice Department, and the courts, to determine what happens next. As lawmakers ready a Thursday vote to send a contempt referral to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, there’s considerable uncertainty about whether the Justice Department will prosecute Bannon for refusing to cooperate with the investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection, despite Democratic demands for action.
Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, subsequently denied the request to delay the committee's business meeting to move forward with criminal contempt because he argued the litigation Costello is referring to "is immaterial to the Select Committee's demand for documents and testimony from Mr. Bannon."
Following Tuesday's meeting, the report is then referred to the House for a vote. If the vote succeeds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi certifies the report to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. Under law, this certification then requires the United States attorney to "bring the matter before the grand jury for its action," but the Justice Department will also make its own determinations for prosecution.
As severe as a criminal contempt referral sounds, the House's choice to use the Justice Department may be more of a warning shot than a solution. Holding Bannon in criminal contempt through a prosecution could take years, and historically, criminal contempt cases have been derailed by appeals and acquittals.
The committee sent a letter to Bannon on Friday rejecting his argument for failing to comply with its subpoena and dismissing his claim of executive privilege, particularly as it relates to his communications with individuals other than Trump, according to a copy obtained by CNN.
Steve Bannon 'blew off a congressional subpoena' and may be held in contempt of Congress
The committee is sending a message to Bannon that he has "violated the law, and should be prosecuted for it," said Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California.Bannon, who served as White House chief strategist for the first few months of the Trump presidency, ignored subpoenas from the House Select Committee investigating the insurrection at the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Bannon has previously argued that he is unable to cooperate with the committee until matters of executive privilege are resolved by the courts, but Friday's response makes clear the panel believes his "willful refusal to comply with the Subpoena constitutes a violation of federal law."
"As was explained in the Select Committee's October 8, 2021 letter ... the former President has not communicated any such assertion of privilege, whether formally or informally, to the Select Committee. Moreover, we believe that any such assertion of privilege — should it be made by the former President — will not prevent the Select Committee from lawfully obtaining the information it seeks," the letter says.
And even if the committee was "inclined to accept the unsupported premise" that executive privilege reaches communications between Bannon and Trump, the letter notes that Bannon "does not enjoy any form of absolute immunity from testifying or producing documents in response to a Congressional subpoena."
CNN has reached out to Bannon's attorney for comment. The letter was first reported by The Washington Post.
Costello also wrote to the committee on the night before Bannon was scheduled to appear for a private deposition, claiming the committee accusing his client of defiance was "inappropriate."
House votes to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress
Speaker Nancy Pelosi will now recommend the contempt charge to the Justice Department, who has final say on whether to prosecute Steve Bannon.Bannon, who served as White House chief strategist for the first few months of the Donald Trump's presidency, ignored subpoenas from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol by a pro-Trump mob. The Select Committee voted unanimously Tuesday to hold Bannon in congressional contempt.
Costello said that Bannon was not ignoring the committee's request but was instead following Trump's instruction in his efforts defend executive privilege. Costello also wrote that Bannon would not cooperate with the committee until an agreement was reached between the committee and Trump in regard to his privilege claims.
"Until such time as you reach an agreement with President Trump or receive a court ruling as to the extent, scope and applications of the executive privilege, in order to preserve the claim of executive and other privileges, Mr. Bannon will not be producing documents or testifying," the letter read.
One day later, the committee officially announced its decision to move forward with criminal contempt for Bannon -- an effort that begins with Tuesday's business meeting and vote.
In a letter obtained by CNN on Monday, White House Deputy Counsel to the President, Jonathan Su, told Costello that the Biden administration will not support any attempt by Bannon to refuse to cooperate with the committee on the grounds of executive privilege.
Su informed Costello that Biden has determined that any of Bannon's interactions with anyone in the White House, after he left the Trump administration, are fair game for the committee's investigation.
"As you are aware, Mr Bannon's tenure as a White House employee ended in 2017," Su writes. "To the extent any privileges could apply to Mr Bannon his conversations with the former president or White House staff after the conclusion of his tenure, President Biden has already determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the public interest, and therefore is not justified with respect to certain subjects within the purview of the Select Committee."
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Tuesday. © Pool The members of the committee investigating the January 6 Capitol Hill riot are seen on Tuesday night.
Criminal Contempt Is the Appropriate Solution for Dealing With Steve Bannon .
Chuck Rosenberg explains the difference between civil and criminal contempt -- and why charging Steve Bannon with criminal contempt could send the right message.Congress has no authority to prosecute anyone for anything. Prosecution is an executive branch function, and that power is vested in the Justice Department. That is why Congress asked the Justice Department to prosecute Bannon for contempt – a crime punishable by a fine and imprisonment.