Jan. 6 Panel Sets Vote to Recommend Criminal Charges Against Bannon
WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol said on Thursday that he would hold a vote next week to recommend that Stephen K. Bannon, a former top adviser to President Donald J. Trump, face criminal contempt charges for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The move would escalate what is shaping up to be a major legal battle between the select committee and the former president over access to crucial witnesses and documents that could shed light on what precipitated the riot, when a pro-Trump mob stormed the Capitol and disrupted Congress’s formal count of the votes that confirmed President Biden’s election.
It came after Mr. Bannon informed the panel that he would defy a subpoena in accordance with a directive from Mr. Trump, who has told former aides and advisers they should not cooperate with the inquiry because he is claiming executive privilege, which can shield White House deliberations or documents involving the president from disclosure.
“Mr. Bannon has declined to cooperate with the select committee and is instead hiding behind the former president’s insufficient, blanket and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke,” Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, said in a statement. “We reject his position entirely. The select committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt.”
Under federal law, any person summoned as a congressional witness who refuses to comply can face a misdemeanor charge that carries a penalty of a fine of between $100 and $100,000 and a jail sentence of between one month and one year.
The committee, which is controlled by Democrats, is expected to agree to pursue such penalties on Tuesday, which would send the contempt citation to the full House, where Democrats almost certainly have the votes to approve it. That would send the matter to the Justice Department with a recommendation that officials there pursue a legal case against Mr. Bannon.
The cumbersome procedure reflects a challenging reality that Democrats are grappling with as they work to push forward in the inquiry. Congress is a legislative body, not a law enforcement entity, and its ability to compel cooperation and punish wrongdoing is inherently limited. Its investigative tools are only as powerful as the courts decide, and the process of waging legal fights to secure crucial information and witnesses is likely to be a prolonged one.
Robert J. Costello, a lawyer for Mr. Bannon, said in a letter to the committee on Wednesday that his client would not produce documents or testimony “until such time as you reach an agreement with President Trump” on claims of executive privilege “or receive a court ruling.”
The Biden administration has declined to extend privilege to Mr. Trump, but the question could end up in the courts. And in the case of Mr. Bannon, who has not been an executive branch official since he left the White House in 2017, the claim is particularly tenuous as it relates to conversations or documents concerning the Jan. 6 attack.
In its first batch of subpoenas, the select committee ordered four former Trump administration officials — Mr. Bannon; Mark Meadows, the White House chief of staff; Dan Scavino Jr., a deputy chief of staff; and Kash Patel, a Pentagon chief of staff — to sit for depositions this week and furnish documents and other materials relevant to its investigation.
The committee has said Mr. Meadows and Mr. Patel were communicating with the panel. A source with knowledge of the committee’s negotiations said lawmakers were likely to grant the two men a delay before testifying. Mr. Scavino was only served with his subpoena last week.
On Wednesday, the committee issued a subpoena to Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department who was involved in Mr. Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. The committee’s action came the same day it heard lengthy closed-door testimony from former acting Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen, who already has testified both publicly and privately about the final days of the Trump administration, when the former president was pressing top officials to use the Justice Department to validate false claims of election fraud and invalidate the outcome.
In private testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Rosen said that Mr. Clark had told him that Mr. Trump was getting ready to fire Mr. Rosen and endorse Mr. Clark’s strategy of pursuing conspiracy theories about voting booth hacks and election fraud.