WASHINGTON – A House committee investigating the January 6 insurgency on Capitol Hill voted unanimously to hold former White House aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after the longtime ally of the Former President Donald Trump has defied a subpoena for documents and testimony.
Still defending his supporters who broke into Capitol Hill that day, Trump aggressively tried to block the committee’s work by ordering Bannon and others not to answer questions in the inquiry. Trump has also filed a lawsuit to try to prevent Congress from obtaining old documents from the White House.
But lawmakers have made it clear they will not back down as they gather facts and testimony about the attack involving Trump supporters that injured dozens of police officers, sent lawmakers running for their lives and disrupted certification of Joe Biden’s victory in the presidential election.
Committee chair Representative Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Said Tuesday that Bannon “stands alone in his total disregard of our subpoena” and that the panel will not accept a response.
He said that while Bannon may be “ready to be a martyr for the shameful cause of the laundering of what happened on January 6 – to demonstrate his complete loyalty to the former president,” the contempt vote is a warning for other witnesses.
“We will not be discouraged. We will not be distracted. And we will not be delayed,” said Thompson.
Tuesday night’s vote sends the resolution in contempt to the entire House, which is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday. The House’s approval would send the case to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether or not to pursue criminal charges against Bannon.
The contempt resolution claims the former Trump aide and podcast host lacks the legal capacity to push back the committee – even though Trump’s attorney argued that Bannon should not release information because it is protected by the privilege of the office of the former president. The committee noted that Bannon, fired from his White House job in 2017, was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump before the attack. And Trump made no such claim of executive privilege from the panel itself, lawmakers said.
Wyoming Representative Liz Cheney – one of the two Republican women on the committee and a rare GOP critic of Trump – said Bannon and Trump’s arguments of privilege suggest the former president was “personally involved” in the planning and the execution of the day’s events.
“We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” Cheney said.
Committee says it is continuing Bannon’s testimony due to his reported communications with Trump ahead of the siege, his efforts to get the former president to focus on the certification of the vote by Congress on Jan. 6, and his comments. January 5 that “all hell is going to break loose” the next day.
Bannon “appears to have had several roles relevant to this investigation, including his role in building and participating in the” stop the theft public relations effort “that prompted the attack” and “his efforts to plan political activities et al by January 6, “the committee wrote in the resolution recommending the contempt.
Biden’s White House has also rejected Bannon’s claims, with deputy attorney Jonathan Su writing to Bannon’s attorney this week to say that “at this point we know of no grounds for your client’s refusal to appear. for a deposition “. Biden’s judgment that executive privilege is unwarranted, Su wrote, “applies to your client’s testimony and any documents your client may have.”
When asked last week whether the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes. But the Justice Department quickly backed down, with a spokesperson saying the Department would make its own decisions.
While Bannon has said he needs a court order before complying with his subpoena, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former White House and Pentagon aide Kashyap Patel negotiated with the committee. The panel also subpoenaed more than a dozen people who helped plan Trump’s pre-siege rallies, and some of them have already handed over documents and testified.
Maryland Representative Jamie Raskin said all other witnesses who have been called “are complying or acting in good faith instead of just blowing us up,” as Bannon did.
The committee is also conducting voluntary closed-door interviews with other witnesses who have come forward or have immediately granted their requests.
For some of the witnesses, said Raskin, “it is a privilege and truly an opportunity for them to start making amends, if they were involved in these events.” Some of them “feel bad about the role they played,” he said.
Still, there could be more contempt votes to come.
“I won’t go into details in terms of back and forth, but I will just say that our patience is not endless,” said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the other Republican on the panel, said. about some of the witness negotiations.
The vote came a day after Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to fight the release of documents requested by the committee. Trump’s lawsuit, filed after Biden said he would allow the documents to be released, claims the panel’s request in August was too broad and a “vexatious and illegal fishing expedition.”
Trump’s lawsuit seeks to strike down the entirety of Congress’ request, calling it too broad, unduly cumbersome and challenging the separation of powers. He seeks a court injunction to prohibit the archivist from producing the documents.
The Biden administration, in approving the release of the documents, said the violent siege of the Capitol over nine months ago was such an extraordinary circumstance that it deserved to forgo the privilege that usually protects White House communications.
Associated Press editors Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, Nomaan Merchant, and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.
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