Jan. 6 Committee Plans to Hold Steve Bannon in Criminal Contempt

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REUTERS
REUTERS

Steve Bannon, once Donald Trump’s right-hand man and now still loyally building support for the former president, could soon face charges for ignoring a subpoena demanding he appear before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Last week, Bannon’s lawyer informed the special congressional committee that the right-wing media figure would defy the subpoena, citing Trump’s “executive privilege”—despite the obvious fact that Trump is no longer a sitting president and Bannon was only a former adviser at the time of the insurrection.

In response, the chairman of the special committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), issued a statement on Thursday saying his panel would “not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt.”

“I’ve notified the Select Committee that we will convene for a business meeting Tuesday evening to vote on adopting a contempt report,” the chairman said.

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Bannon’s New York City attorney, Robert Joseph Costello, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

While being held in contempt of Congress is usually a drawn-out process, retribution in this case could be swift.

If the select committee approves the contempt report, then the matter moves to the U.S. House of Representatives, where all members will vote on a resolution that would refer the witness—Bannon—to the Justice Department. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) would then send the referral to Channing D. Phillips, the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia.

Federal prosecutors could then pursue a criminal charge against Bannon for having violated a law that deems this kind of outright defiance a misdemeanor, punishable by jail time spanning between a month and a year.

The Justice Department did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s inquiries about whether it has already been contacted about this matter, or how quickly it would make a move against the Trump acolyte.

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Bannon appears to be operating under a novel legal approach that basically claims executive privilege lasts beyond a president’s time in office and extends to White House employees—even former employees—though legal scholars already seem doubtful about the validity of the conservative commentator’s argument.

However, Bannon’s insistence that he is honoring Trump’s ongoing executive privilege also throws a bone to the rabid, right-wing conspiracy theorists who continue to assert that Trump is still president.

The move is also typical Bannon. The conservative media figure, who once served as Trump’s chief strategist at the White House, is on a years-long crusade to birth ultra-right-wing nationalist sects across the world. And part of that is an utter rejection of government authority.

This isn’t the first time Bannon has defied a subpoena. He also rebuffed the Federal Trade Commission for more than a year, when Cambridge Analytica—a London firm on whose board Bannon served—was caught improperly accessing Facebook to build voter profiles and help Trump in 2016.

At the time, Bannon was also CEO of Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, so the FTC wanted to interview him to examine whether he had abused his position and played a role in the scandal. The FTC came at him with a “civil investigative demand”—essentially an administrative subpoena—that would force him to submit to giving a deposition. But Bannon simply refused to play ball. The FTC filed a federal lawsuit to force him to comply, and this past January, U.S. District Judge Christopher Cooper granted the FTC’s petition.

So far, Bannon has largely escaped repercussions for his behavior. Although he was arrested in August 2020 and hit with federal charges for stealing more than $1 million from a “We Build the Wall” fundraiser, he was pardoned by Trump during the president’s last hours in office in January.

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