WASHINGTON – The chairman of the House committee investigating the Jan.6 attack on the Capitol voted next week to recommend that Stephen K. Bannon, former senior adviser to President Donald J. Trump, face charges of criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The move would exacerbate what is shaping up to be a major legal battle between the select committee and the former president over access to witnesses and crucial documents that could shed light on what precipitated the riot, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and disrupted the formal Congressional vote tally that confirmed President Biden’s election.
It came after Mr Bannon informed the panel that he would challenge a subpoena pursuant to a directive from Mr Trump, which told former aides and advisers they should not cooperate with the investigation. because it claims executive privilege, which may protect White House proceedings or documents involving the president from disclosure.
“Sir. Bannon refused to cooperate with the select committee and instead hides behind the former president’s insufficient, general and vague statements regarding the privileges he purported to invoke,” said Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and chairman of the committee, in a statement. “We reject his position entirely. The select committee will not tolerate disregard of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with the procedures to remove Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt. .
Under federal law, anyone called as a Congressional witness who refuses to comply can face a misdemeanor charge punishable by a fine of $ 100 to $ 100,000 and jail time of up to $ 100,000. months to a year.
The committee, which is controlled by Democrats, is expected to agree to continue these sanctions on Tuesday. This would send the contempt citation across the House, where Democrats almost certainly have the votes to endorse it. The case would then be sent to the Justice Department with a recommendation that officials pursue legal action against Mr Bannon.
The cumbersome process reflects a difficult reality Democrats face as they strive to move the investigation forward. Congress is a legislative body, not a law enforcement body, and its ability to compel cooperation and punish wrongdoing is inherently limited. Its investigative tools are only powerful if the courts so decide, and the process of legal struggle to obtain crucial information and witnesses is likely to drag on.
Robert J. Costello, counsel for Mr. Bannon, said in a letter to the committee Wednesday that his client would not produce any documents or testimony “until you reach an agreement with President Trump” on the allegations of executive privilege “or receive a court order.
The Biden administration has refused to extend the privilege to Mr. Trump, but the matter could end up in court. And in the case of Mr Bannon, who has not been an executive official since leaving the White House in 2017, the claim is particularly tenuous, as it concerns conversations or documents relating to the January 6 attack.
In its first batch of summonses, the select committee ordered four former Trump administration officials – Mr. Bannon; Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Dan Scavino Jr., Deputy Chief of Staff; and Kash Patel, a Pentagon chief of staff – to attend depositions this week and provide documents and other materials relevant to his investigation.
The committee said that Mr. Meadows and Mr. Patel were communicating with the panel. A source familiar with the committee’s negotiations said lawmakers were likely to give the two men a delay before testifying. Mr. Scavino received his subpoena last week.
On Wednesday, the committee issued a subpoena to Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official who participated in Mr. Trump’s efforts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. The committee’s action came on the same day. where he heard lengthy closed-door testimony from Jeffrey A. Rosen, the former acting attorney general, who testified publicly and privately on the final days of the Trump administration, when the former president pressed senior officials to use the Department of Justice to advance false allegations of fraud and invalidate the election result.
In private testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Rosen said Mr. Clark told him that Mr. Trump was preparing to fire Mr. Rosen and endorse Mr. Clark’s strategy of pursuing the crimes. conspiracy theories on voting booths and elections. fraud.
“Well, I can’t be fired by someone who works for me,” Mr. Rosen told Mr. Clark.