Ex-Trump Aide Steve Bannon Indicted for Contempt of Congress
(Bloomberg) -- Longtime Donald Trump adviser Stephen Bannon was indicted for defying subpoenas by the special congressional committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol, a major move by the Justice Department to compel cooperation by the former president’s associates.
Bannon is charged with two counts of contempt, the Justice Department said in a statement on Friday: one for his refusal to appear for a deposition and another involving his refusal to produce documents. An arraignment date hasn’t been set. Bannon declined to comment.
“Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in the statement. “Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.”
Federal prosecutors in Washington obtained the grand jury indictment, the first significant legal action the department has taken under President Joe Biden and Garland to bolster the wide-ranging congressional investigation. The White House referred questions about Bannon’s indictment to the Justice Department.
The indictment against Bannon, 67, is a major blow to potential legal efforts by Trump and others to defy subpoenas from the committee, as it shows the Justice Department is willing to use its power against them in court.
According to the department’s statement,“Each count of contempt of Congress carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000.”
The special committee’s chairman, Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and its vice chair, Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said in a statement on Friday evening that the Bannon indictment “should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law. We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need.”
The charges came as the committee accelerates its efforts to obtain documents and testimony. On Tuesday, the panel announced subpoenas to 10 additional Trump officials, including former senior presidential adviser Stephen Miller and former White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
The same day, Trump lost an initial court ruling seeking to block the release of documents sought by the House panel and filed notice that he will appeal the decision. On Thursday, he won a temporary hold in the U.S. appeals court in Washington.
Bannon, known for his combative populist rhetoric, hasn’t served in the White House since 2017 but has remained in contact with Trump. He has been depicted as participating in meetings with other Trump allies at the Willard Hotel near the White House in the days surrounding the Jan. 6 riot.
Bannon’s refusal to testify to the committee is a test case of how far witnesses could go in resisting its demands.
It posed a major challenge for Garland and top Justice officials, who have pledged to restore independence and credibility to the department. They’ve faced mounting pressure in recent days to indict Bannon as well as criticism on other grounds from Republicans like Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who said in October that Garland has “politicized the department.”
The committee is currently 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 deposition scheduled for Friday.
“Mr. Meadows’s actions today -- choosing to defy the law -- will force the Select Committee to consider pursuing contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena,” Thompson and Cheney said in another statement.
Trump’s Republican allies have assailed the House panel for pursuing the contempt motion. Representative Jim Banks of Indiana has said Democrats wanted to make Bannon a “boogie man” and are “abusing their power to put him in jail.” Representative Jim Jordan of Ohio has said Democrats are “coming after” Trump. “We know what this is really about. It’s about trying to get at President Trump,” Jordan said.
At Trump’s direction, Bannon had refused to testify or provide documents to the select committee conducting the probe. His lawyer, Robert Costello, argued that Bannon wasn’t actively defying the Jan. 6 panel subpoena but rather was seeking a clarification of the law because Trump’s lawyer indicated that executive privilege is at issue.
The broader dispute about the former president’s ability to assert executive privilege -- over the objections of Biden, his successor -- remains unresolved.
The House voted on Oct. 21 to hold Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress, sending the matter to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. Lawmakers argued that Trump hasn’t yet made a formal assertion of privilege and that Bannon wouldn’t qualify in any event because he wasn’t a government employee or a Trump adviser during the period under investigation.
The Justice Department has been reluctant in recent years to prosecute current or former officials who have been targeted by House contempt actions. But congressional investigators say Bannon’s testimony is crucial to getting needed 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 -- and his broader efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
“While the attack was underway, President Trump knew what was happening,” Cheney said before voting to hold Bannon in criminal contempt. “Indeed, he may have been watching it all unfold on television. And yet he took no immediate action to stop it.”
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