The House Select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection said it is close to referring former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution, due to his lack of cooperation with its subpoena.
“Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former president,” said Rep Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., chair of the committee, and Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee’s vice chair in a joint statement.
“We will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” Thompson and Cheney said.
Bannon was chief strategist for Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and when he took office in 2017, but was ousted from the job less than a year later. However, he worked his way back into Trump’s inner circle and allegedly played a crucial role in getting Trump to return to Washington from Florida on Jan. 6 to make a concerted effort to stop the certification of the election in Congress.
Bannon also used a Jan. 5 meeting at D.C.’s Willard Hotel to lobby members of Congress to vote against certifying the vote, according to “Peril,” the new book by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa’s book
On Thursday, Bannon’s lawyer Robert Costello told the committee that he was “unable to respond to your request for documents and testimony” because Trump had claimed executive privilege.
“It is therefore clear to us that since the executive privileges belong to President Trump, and he has, through his counsel, announced his intention to assert those executive privileges enumerated above, we must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege,” Costello wrote.
But it’s not likely that Bannon would have any legitimate claim to be shielded by executive privilege. “It’s hard to tell how Bannon would claim executive privilege, given that he last held a government position in 2017 and, at the time of the Jan. 6 riot, was hosting a podcast,” wrote Quinta Jurecic and Molly Reynolds for Lawfare, a legal affairs website.
They explained that if the committee does pursue a criminal referral, “the next step is for a U.S. attorney from the Department of Justice to bring the case to a grand jury.”
“The Justice Department, now helmed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, may choose to prosecute any contempt citations referred to it. But before those prosecutions could begin, the full committee would need to report out the contempt citations and the full House would likely need to vote to refer them to the U.S. attorney,” Jurecic and Reynolds wrote. “All of this will take time … the chances of a drawn-out process to resolve criminal citations are high.”
“Under the criminal contempt statute, noncompliance with a subpoena from a congressional committee for testimony or documents is a misdemeanor carrying a penalty of a fine or up to a year in prison,” Jurecic and Reynolds wrote.
Also on Friday, President Biden denied Trump’s attempt to block the National Archives from releasing documents to the Jan. 6 committee, NBC News reported.
White House counsel Diane Remus said Biden would not grant Trump’s request to block the records from being released because “these are unique and extraordinary circumstances.”
“Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the president’s constitutional responsibilities,” Remus said. “The constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield, from Congress or the public, information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself.”
Thompson and Cheney, the two chairs of the Jan. 6 committee, said that former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon official Kash Patel are “so far, engaging with the Select Committee.”
“The Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation,” Thompson and Cheney said.
Their statement did not mention Dan Scavino, a former aide to then-President Donald Trump, who was also subpoenaed and was due to respond Thursday. A committee aide did not respond to a question about Scavino.
“The committee is making rapid progress and will not be deterred by those who seek to obstruct our efforts,” they said.
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