Democrats Press Garland to Pursue Contempt Charges Against Bannon
(Bloomberg) -- Attorney General Merrick Garland received a vivid reminder of the nation’s partisan divide Thursday, as Democrats pressed him to pursue criminal contempt charges against former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon while Republicans accused him of treating conservative parents as domestic terrorists.
Garland made his first appearance before the House Judiciary Committee hours before the House is scheduled to vote on compelling Bannon to testify before the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of former President Trump.
If passed as expected, the contempt citation would be referred to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, who would decide along with Garland whether to prosecute.
Representative Jerrold Nadler of New York, the Judiciary panel’s Democratic chairman, said in his opening statement that it’s Garland’s “responsibility to help the country understand and reckon with the violence and the lawlessness of the last administration, while maintaining the department’s prosecutorial independence.”
Garland said only that the Justice Department will follow “the facts and law” in handling the contempt referral on Bannon.
Bannon has, at Trump’s direction, refused to testify or provide documents to the select committee conducting the probe. His lawyer, Robert Costello, has argued that Bannon isn’t actively defying the Jan. 6 panel subpoena -- but rather is seeking a clarification of the law because Trump’s lawyer has suggested that executive privilege is at issue.
Trump’s Republican allies on the Judiciary committee turned the tables by accusing Democrats of politicizing the Justice Department.
Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the committee, said the Justice Department set up a “snitch line” for complaints about parents who “object to some racist, hate-filled curriculum” in schools.
Representative Steve Chabot of Ohio said “not in a million years did we dream that one day we’d see the Justice Department treat American parents as domestic terrorists.”
Garland responded that “the Justice Department supports and defends the First Amendment right of parents to complain as voraciously as they wish.” He said “I do not believe that parents who testify, speak, argue with or complain about school boards and schools should be classified as domestic terrorists or any kind of criminals.”
“True threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment,” he said, referring to tumultuous confrontations across the country. “Those are the only things we’re worried about here.”
Local school boards have been confronted by conservative parents who vociferously criticize them -- and in some cases have threatened against them -- for allowing teaching that focuses on racism in American culture and history.
Representative Ted Lieu, a California Democrat, said his wife is a school board member and has been targeted with death threats.
“The lack of concern by my Republican colleagues for the safety of teachers, school officials and school board members is dangerous, disgusting and utterly shameful,” he said.
Republicans also renewed their complaints Thursday about mask mandates.
“Every single liberty we enjoy in the First Amendment has been assaulted in the last year” under coronavirus restrictions, Jordan said.
Chairman Nadler repeatedly reminded some of them that the committee required them to wear masks except when speaking.
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