House Democrats vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress

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In a largely party-line vote Thursday, the House of Representatives passed the Jan. 6 select committee’s resolution to recommend that former Trump strategist Steve Bannon be held in contempt of Congress over his refusal to comply with its subpoena. 

Bannon —  who was a private citizen at the time of the riot, having been fired from his White House position in August 2017 — has argued through his attorney Robert Costello that he is “not required to respond” to the subpoena,” citing former President Donald Trrump’s claim of executive privilege. 

Its passage comes as the nine-member select committee — which is tasked with investigating the events surrounding the deadly attack on the Capitol when pro-Trump supporters stormed the building in an attempt to disrupt the certification of the 2020 election — unanimously voted to advance the resolution calling for the Department of Justice to pursue criminal charges against Bannon for his refusal to provide requested testimony and documents on Tuesday. 

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The full House vote comes days after Trump filed a lawsuit calling for the release of documents to the committee to be blocked under the purview of executive privilege.

Members of the committee have asserted that Bannon is a critical witness to its investigation due to his communication, stating in a report released on Monday that the former Trump adviser “appears to have played a multi-faceted role in the events of January 6th, and the American people are entitled to hear his first-hand testimony regarding his actions.”

The report cites Bannon’s communication with Trump in the days leading up to the attack and “his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th,” pointing to his participation in a ‘‘war room’’ organized at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 5. 

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), one of the two GOP lawmakers on the panel, argued that Bannon’s refusal to comply suggests he holds pertinent information. 

An image of President Donald Trump appears on video screens before his speech to supporters from the Ellipse at the White House in Washington on Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021, as the Congress prepares to certify the electoral college votes.
Then-President Trump gave a speech to his supporters from the Ellipse at the White House on Jan. 6, 2021, as Congress prepared to certify the electoral college votes.
CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Imag

“Today, Madam Speaker, we are here to address one witness: Mr. Steve Bannon. I urge all Americans to watch what Mr. Bannon said on his podcast on Jan. 5 and 6. It is shocking and indefensible. He said, all hell is going to break loose. He said, quote, we are coming in right over the target. This is the point of attack. We have always — this is the point of attack we have always wanted,” she said on the floor ahead of the vote.” 

Critics of the resolution, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) argue that the subpoena is “invalid” and the courts should determine whether executive privilege applies to the former Trump adviser. McCarthy went as far as arguing that the entire panel — which was granted subpoena power — is invalid since the Republican members he selected do not partake in the committee. 

The California Republican opted not to place any GOP lawmakers on the panel after Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) rejected two of his selections, Reps. Jim Banks (R-Ind.) and Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), both of which are vocal Trump allies. Cheney and Rep. Adam Kizinger (R-Ill.) defied McCarthy’s calls to refrain from participating in the panel, sparking strong backlash from their GOP colleagues. 

Critics have alleged the panel is politically motivated and alleging it is overstepping its authority to investigate a private citizen. 

Trump supporters clash with police and security forces as people try to storm the US Capitol on January 6, 2021
Trump supporters fight with police and security forces at an entrance to the US Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
Brent Stirton/Getty Images

“Congress is prohibited from conducting criminal investigations, period.But that’s exactly what the select committee is doing, conducting an illicit criminal investigation into American citizens. Steve Bannon was a private citizen before, after, and during Jan. 6. So why is the select committee interested in Steve Bannon? It’s simple. He’s a Democrat Party boogieman,” Banks said on the floor. 

“… Congress can only issue subpoenas that serve a legislative purpose. The question that the committee must answer is why are they seeking information about a permitted political rally? What legislative purpose does that serve? Is the committee considering laws to limit americans’ right to political protest? It’s clear that the select committee doesn’t give a lick about Congress’ subpoena authority.”

Pelosi disputed the claim the panel doesn’t serve a legislative purpose, telling reporters on Thursday that the panel will use the findings from its probe to determine what “legislation is necessary.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told reporters the panel will use the findings from its probe to determine what “legislation is necessary.”
Ting Shen/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The resolution is slated to be sent to acting US Attorney for DC Channing Phillips, who will then determine whether to pursue criminal charges. 

Bannon was first subpoenaed on Sept. 23, along with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House communications official Dan Scavino and former Pentagon official Kash Patel. 

Contempt of Congress penalties include fines up to $100,000 and up to a year in prison. 

— Additional reporting by Samuel Chamberlain



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