A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection voted unanimously Tuesday to hold former White House aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after the longtime ally of former U.S. president Donald Trump defied a subpoena for documents and testimony.
Still defending his supporters who broke into the Capitol that day, Trump has aggressively tried to block the committee's work by directing Bannon and others not to answer questions in the probe. Trump has also filed a lawsuit to try to prevent Congress from obtaining former White House documents.
But lawmakers have made clear they will not back down as they gather facts and testimony about the attack involving Trump's supporters that left dozens of police officers injured, sent lawmakers running for their lives and interrupted the certification of President Joe Biden's victory.
The committee's chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, said Tuesday that Bannon "stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena" and the panel will not take no for an answer.
He said that while Bannon may be "willing to be a martyr to the disgraceful cause of whitewashing what happened on Jan. 6 — of demonstrating his complete loyalty to the former president," the contempt vote is a warning to other witnesses.
"We won't be deterred. We won't be distracted. And we won't be delayed," Thompson said.
Resolution now moves to full House vote
The Tuesday evening vote sends the contempt resolution to the full House, which is expected to vote on the measure Thursday. House approval would send the matter to the U.S. Justice Department, which would then decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Bannon.
A spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia said Tuesday night that prosecutors there would "evaluate the matter based on the facts and the law" if the full House approves the recommendation.
The contempt resolution asserts that the former Trump aide and podcast host has no legal standing to rebuff the committee — even as Trump's lawyer has argued that Bannon should not disclose information because it is protected by the privilege of the former president's office. The committee noted that Bannon, fired from his White House job in 2017, was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump ahead of the attack. And Trump has not asserted any such executive privilege claims to the panel itself, lawmakers said.
Rep. Liz Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the committee, said: "Mr. Bannon's and Mr. Trump's privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of Jan 6. And we will get to the bottom of that."
The committee says it is pursuing Bannon's testimony because of his apparent role in the events of Jan. 6, including his communications with Trump ahead of the siege, his efforts to get the former president to focus on Jan. 6, the day Congress certified the presidential vote, and his comments on Jan. 5 that "all hell is going to break loose" the next day.
Bannon "appears to have had multiple roles relevant to this investigation, including his role in constructing and participating in the `stop the steal' public relations effort that motivated the attack" and "his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th," the committee wrote in the resolution recommending contempt.
The Biden White House has rejected Bannon's claims, with Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su writing Bannon's lawyer this week to say that "at this point we are not aware of any basis for your client's refusal to appear for a deposition." Biden's judgment that executive privilege is not justified, Su wrote, "applies to your client's deposition testimony and to any documents your client may possess."
Asked last week if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes. But the Justice Department quickly pushed back, with a spokesman saying the department would make its own decisions.
Lawsuit seeks to invalidate records request
Trump's lawsuit, filed after Biden decided to waive his right to block the document release over executive privilege concerns, claims that the panel's August request was overly broad and a "vexatious, illegal fishing expedition," according to papers filed in Federal Court in the District of Columbia.
The lawsuit was expected, as Trump has repeatedly made clear that he will challenge the investigation of the violent attack by a mob of his supporters.
But Trump's challenge went beyond the initial 125 pages of records that Biden recently cleared for release to the committee.
The suit, which names the committee as well as the National Archives, seeks to invalidate the entirety of the congressional request, calling it overly broad, unduly burdensome and a challenge to the separation of powers. It requests a court injunction to bar the archivist from producing the documents.
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 have been negotiating with the committee. It is unclear whether a fourth former White House aide, Dan Scavino, will comply.
The committee has demanded a broad range of executive branch papers related to intelligence gathered before the attack, security preparations during and before the siege, the pro-Trump rallies held that day and Trump's false claims that he won the election, among other matters.
With files from Reuters
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