(WASHINGTON) — The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on Tuesday moved to punish Trump adviser Steve Bannon, recommending the full House hold him in contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with a subpoena for records and testimony.
The nine-member panel voted unanimously Tuesday evening to send a report recommending contempt charges to the full House. If approved by the full chamber as soon as this week, the matter would then be referred to the Justice Department to decide whether to pursue criminal charges.
“Our goal is simple: we want Mr. Bannon to answer our questions,” Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in the meeting. “We want him to turn over whatever records he possesses that are relevant to the select committee’s investigation. The issue in front of us today is our ability to do our job.”
The Justice Department has declined to comment on how it might act on a criminal referral for Bannon or others who may be held in contempt.
After President Joe Biden said recently that the Justice Department should prosecute Bannon, White House press secretary Jen Psaki attempted to distance the White House from that action, telling reporters on Monday that Biden “believes it’s an independent decision that should be made by the Department of Justice.”
The matter could take months, if not years, to litigate, and could result in a fine of up to $100,000 and up to one year in prison.
Robert Costello, Bannon’s attorney, told committee members that his client would not cooperate with the probe given Trump’s executive privilege concerns, or without a court order to do so.
“Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a statement earlier this month.
Thompson said Bannon “stands alone in his complete defiance” of the committee.
“We have reached out to dozens of witnesses. We are taking in thousands of pages of records. We are conducting interviews on a steady basis,” he said.
The committee’s report argues that the committee’s efforts to seek information from Bannon are justified because he “had specific knowledge about the events planned for January 6th before they occurred.”
“Mr. Bannon was a private citizen during the relevant time period and the testimony and documents the Select Committee is demanding do not concern discussion of official government matters with the President and his immediate advisors,” the panel wrote in the report, in response to Trump’s claims of privilege.
Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, said that Bannon and Trump’s claims of privilege “suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th.”
She also warned Republicans that Trump’s continued lies about widespread election fraud are “a prescription for national self-destruction.”
“You know that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud sufficient to overturn the election; you know that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know those claims are false. Yet President Trump repeats them almost daily,” she said.
“The American people must know what happened. They must know the truth. All of us who are elected officials must do our duty to prevent the dismantling of the rule of law, and to ensure nothing like that dark day in January ever happens again,” Cheney said.
Several other former Trump aides and associates, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Kashyap Patel, who served as a senior Pentagon official, continue to negotiate with the committee over cooperation after receiving subpoenas.
It’s not clear if Dan Scavino, one of Trump’s longest-serving aides, will cooperate with the panel’s investigation.
On Monday, the former president announced he was suing the committee, as well as the National Archives, to block lawmakers from receiving Trump White House records.
The Biden administration had refuted Trump’s of claim executive privilege, saying that the invocation “is not in the best interests of the United States,” White House counsel Dana Remus wrote in a letter to the National Archives.
As a result, the National Archives notified Trump’s attorney last week that it planned to turn over dozens of records to the committee on Nov. 12, “absent any intervening court order.”
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