Jan. 6 House Panel to Hold Steve Bannon in Criminal Contempt of Congress

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The Democratic-led committee investigating the Capitol riot plans voted next week after a former Trump aide refused to comply with the subpoena

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Refusing to cooperate, Mr. Bannon has “hidden behind the former president’s inadequate, blanket and vague statements which he has called to enforce. We completely disapprove of his position,” said the panel’s chairman representative. Benny Thompson (D., Miss.) said. “Witnesses who try to stone the select committee will not succeed.”

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Former President Donald Trump has said he would claim executive privilege to bar Mr Bannon and other former aides from making statements to committee investigators. Mr Bannon was not serving in the government at the time of the attack. Courts have never blessed such a claim of executive privilege involving outside consultants and confidants.

Mr Trump criticized the committee in a statement on Thursday afternoon. “They are using prosecutors and prosecutors to destroy more than half of this country and people will not stand for it!” he said.

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In a letter last week, Mr Bannon’s lawyer, Robert Jay Costello, said Mr Bannon could not respond to the committee’s summons because of executive and attorney-client privilege. Mr Costello did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

There are very few modern examples of how a criminal contempt referral by Congress can work. In several such fights in the past, the Justice Department has refused to act on contempt referrals from Congress. A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment on the possible referral.

The House Select Committee, led by Mr. Thompson and Vice President Liz Cheney (R., Va.) was established in a June vote by House lawmakers, with Senate Republicans almost entirely along party lines to establish a bipartisan. The earlier attempt was blocked. independent commission. The House panel is tasked with investigating the causes and circumstances of the January 6 attack on the Capitol, when a crowd of Trump supporters attacked police and broke into the building, temporarily marking the victory of Democrat Joe Biden’s Electoral College. Authentication interrupted.

Mr Bannon was one of four Trump administration officials who received subpoenas from the committee last month. The summons sought to compel him to hand over the records regarding the events surrounding the attack and to sit for the statement.

The committee has expressed interest in reports that Bannon encouraged Trump and members of Congress to block authentication of the election on 6 January, in talks with the former president on 30 December, and in a January meeting at the Willard Hotel. during the meeting. 5.

In addition to Mr. Bannon, summons were also sent to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows; Dan Scavino, former deputy chief of staff of the White House; and Kashyap Patel, who was the chief of staff to the acting Defense Secretary at the end of the Trump administration.

Thursday was the deadline for M/s Bannon and Patel to be present for the statement. Meadows and Scavino had time till Friday.

An aide of the committee said on Thursday that the panel has agreed to postpone the testimony of M/s Meadows and Patel for the time being, “as they continue to engage in the investigation.” The aide said Mr Scavino’s prescribed statement has also been pushed back because the service of his summons was delayed.

Congressional Democrats hope the January 6 panel can be strengthened by the Biden administration’s Justice Department, who are prepared to pursue potential criminal charges against those who disobey the committee’s authority.

In principle, congressional subpoenas carry the same legal weight as those signed by judges, grand juries or federal agencies. But because of the lack of tools available to law enforcement, judges and prosecutors, Congress has long struggled to enforce them – largely relying on the other two branches of government for help.

Congress has two main enforcement mechanisms: It can ask a federal prosecutor to initiate criminal charges against those who disobey the subpoena, or it can bring a civil case to the courts to demand compliance. The Justice Department, however, has been reluctant to charge witnesses in contempt of Congress cases – claiming that it alone decides who to bring to criminal charges. In addition, litigation can take years.

Historically, Congress responded by detaining rebel witnesses within its jurisdiction. That right has been repeatedly blessed by the courts, but it hasn’t been exercised in nearly a century.

Congress’s persistent inability to enforce its subpoena cuts across parties: During the Obama administration, House Republicans struggled to obtain testimony and documents in the various investigations they were pursuing.

After winning the House in 2019, Democrats moved swiftly to investigate—including a Ukraine-related investigation that culminated in Trump’s first impeachment trial. Mr Trump vowed to fight “all subpoenas” in return. Democrats then turned to filing civil lawsuits in the courts, hoping to win cooperation.

Legal battles consumed much of the final years of the Trump administration, in some cases even up to the Supreme Court. But they produced very little useful evidence or documents.

The January 6 committee has so far issued 19 subpoenas, one of which was announced Wednesday seeking testimony and records from Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official. Clark sought to use the agency’s power to help Trump challenge the 2020 election results, according to transcripts of interviews he conducted with then-acting Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen and other former Trump Justice Department officials. of and was released last week by the Senate Judiciary Committee. .

The tapes urge Mr. Clark to publicly announce to Mr. Rosen and other senior agency officials that the Justice Department was investigating electoral fraud and proposed writing letters encouraging state legislatures in some swing states that Mr. Biden to consider appointing new slates of voters. . Mr Clarke’s lawyer declined to comment on Thursday.

The committee has also issued summons to those involved in planning the January 6 “Stop the Steel” rally, which Mr Trump starred in and preceded the riots at the Capitol.

write to Lindsay Wise at [email protected] and Byron Tau at [email protected]

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