WASHINGTON (AP) – A House committee investigating the Jan.6 Capitol uprising voted unanimously on Tuesday to hold former White House aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after longtime ally date former President Donald Trump 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 President Joe Biden’s victory.
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, ”added 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 Republicans on the committee, said: “Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s arguments of privilege seem to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved. in the planning and execution of January 6. And we’ll get to the bottom of that.
The committee says it is continuing Bannon’s testimony due to his apparent role in the events of January 6, including his communications with Trump before the siege, his efforts to get the former president to focus on January 6, the day Congress certified the presidential vote, and its comments on Jan. 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 and others by January 6, ”the committee wrote in the resolution recommending the contempt.
Biden’s White House has rejected Bannon’s claims, with Deputy Attorney Jonathan Su writing to Bannon’s attorney this week to say that “at this point we are not aware of any basis for denying your client 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. It’s unclear whether a fourth former White House aide Dan Scavino will comply.
The committee also subpoenaed more than a dozen people who helped plan Trump’s pre-siege rallies, and some of them are already handing over documents and testifying.
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.