Bannon Vows Contempt Charges Will Become ‘Hell’ for Democrats
(Bloomberg) -- Former Trump campaign chairman Stephen Bannon vowed to “go on the offense” against President Joe Biden and Democrats as he fights criminal charges over his refusal to cooperate with the congressional investigation into U.S. Capitol riot.
Bannon made the remarks outside the Washington courthouse where he’d been expected to enter a plea Monday afternoon to criminal charges stemming from his defiance of two subpoenas by the House Jan. 6 select committee. A crowd of protesters chanted “traitor” and lofted signs tying him to the Capitol riot as Bannon spoke to reporters.
“This is gonna be the misdemeanor from hell for Nancy Pelosi, Merrick Garland and Joe Biden,” Bannon said. “We’re tired of playing defense, we’re gonna go on the offense.” He also called the Biden administration “illegitimate” in an echo of the stolen-election rhetoric that led supporters of former President Donald Trump to storm the Capitol in the first place.
Bannon, 67, was released without bail after his arraignment was postponed to Thursday. He “self-surrendered” to the Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier on Monday following his indictment last week on two counts of contempt of Congress for defying subpoenas by the House committee seeking his deposition testimony and production of documents.
Bannon turned over his passport but was allowed to walk out of the courtroom on his own recognizance. His Thursday hearing will be before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in Washington.
The indictment is an unusual show of force by the Justice Department, which hasn’t pursued criminal contempt of Congress charges in almost four decades. Each count against Bannon could result in a penalty ranging from 30 days to a year in prison, plus a fine.
Bannon’s lawyers have argued that their client isn’t defying the Jan. 6 panel subpoena but rather seeking a clarification of the law, because Trump has attempted to block the investigation by invoking executive privilege.
“The holder of the executive privilege invoked the privilege,” one of Bannon’s lawyers, David Schoen, said outside court on Monday. Bannon “had an obligation to honor the privilege that was invoked.” Trump last week won a temporary court ruling to block the release of some White House documents sought by the House panel.
The Biden administration contends executive privilege can only be asserted by a sitting president.
The committee is in another standoff with Trump’s former White House chief of staff, Mark Meadows, and will consider contempt charges against him after he failed to appear for a scheduled deposition Friday.
Bannon is the first person to be indicted on criminal contempt of Congress charges since former Reagan administration official Rita Lavelle in 1983. Congress has referred several criminal contempt actions to the Department of Justice for prosecution in the intervening years, including former Attorney General William Barr and former Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in 2019.
Then-Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey Rosen said in a July 24, 2019, letter to House Speaker Pelosi that “The Department of Justice’s long-standing position is that we will not prosecute an official for contempt of Congress for declining to provide information subject to a presidential assertion of executive privilege.”
Congressional investigators say Bannon’s testimony could provide crucial details about Trump’s activities on Jan. 6, when a mob of his supporters stormed the Capitol as Congress was certifying the Electoral College vote.
Bannon’s plea will be the second time in recent years he has had to respond to criminal charges. Last year, he was charged with defrauding people who’d given money to a nonprofit that was raising money to construct a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Trump preemptively pardoned Bannon before the federal case went to trial, although local prosecutors are exploring whether they can revive the charges against him.
©2021 Bloomberg L.P.