Bipartisan January 6 committee moves to pursue criminal contempt charges against Steve Bannon

House select committee investing January 6 pro-Trump riot
Members of the House select committee investigating the deadly pro-Trump invasion of the US Capitol meet ahead of the first hearing in the Cannon House Office Building on Capitol Hill, July 27, 2021. Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images
  • The January 6 committee moved to pursue criminal contempt charges against Steve Bannon.
  • Bannon defied a subpoena to sit for a deposition, while other Trump allies will likely do the same.
  • The investigation is also a backdrop for a legal showdown between Trump and Biden over executive privilege.

The select congressional committee investigating the Capitol insurrection moved to pursue criminal contempt charges on Thursday against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon.

“”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,” select committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson 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.”

He added the panel will convene Tuesday evening to vote on adopting a contempt report against Bannon.

Insider reached out to Bannon’s lawyer for comment.

The January 6 select committee subpoenaed four Trump associates last month to provide documents and testimony as the panel investigates the Capitol siege and the events surrounding it.

Bannon and former senior Pentagon aide Kash Patel faced a Thursday deadline to comply with the subpoenas. The committee expects former White House communications aide Dan Scavino and former chief of staff Mark Meadows to sit for depositions on Friday.

Bannon’s attorney informed the select committee late Wednesday that his client would not cooperate with the subpoena, citing Trump’s claims of executive privilege.

“That is an issue between the committee and President Trump’s counsel and Mr. Bannon is not required to respond at this time,” Robert Costello said in the letter. Costello also said Trump’s lawyer, Justin Clark, has “directed” Bannon not to testify or turn over documents “until the issue of executive privilege is resolved.”

Bannon’s “position is not in defiance of your committee’s subpoena,” Costello said, adding that if a court resolves Trump’s executive privilege concerns or if he changes his position, Bannon will reconsider.

Rep. Adam Schiff, who serves on the bipartisan select committee, told Insider earlier this week that the panel is serious about pursuing contempt charges against those who refuse to cooperate with the investigation.

The Justice Department has previously declined to enforce criminal contempt referrals, and Schiff signaled that he expects that to change under the Biden administration.

“In the last four years, Trump administration witnesses who failed to show up knew that [then Attorney General Bill Barr] would have their back,” Schiff told Insider, adding that Barr himself was held in contempt for refusing to respond to congressional subpoenas.

“That’s no longer the case,” he said. “We now have an attorney general who respects the rule of law and who believes that no one is above the law. And it’s our expectation that the Justice Department will enforce criminal contempt charges against those who flout the law.”

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, one of two Republicans on the committee, also said this week that lawmakers are ready to move forward with contempt charges against those who refuse to cooperate.

“In general, people are going to have to appear, or, you know, we will move contempt charges against them,” she said, adding that the whole committee is in agreement on the matter.

CNN reported that if Bannon ignores the Thursday deadline, as his lawyer indicated he will do, the January 6 committee will “immediately” move forward with seeking a contempt referral.

The committee’s investigation is also backdrop for for a legal showdown between Trump and President Joe Biden over the former’s assertion of executive privilege over a set of documents the panel requested from the National Archives in connection to Trump’s activities on January 6.

But the Biden White House rejected Trump’s request to withhold the records from the select committee.

“President Biden has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States, and therefore is not justified as to any of the documents,” White House counsel Dana Remus said in a letter last week to the National Archives.

“These are unique and extraordinary circumstances,” Remus’ letter said. “Congress is examining an assault on our Constitution and democratic institutions provoked and fanned by those sworn to protect them, and the conduct under investigation extends far beyond typical deliberations concerning the proper discharge of the President’s constitutional responsibilities. The constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield, from Congress or the public, information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself.”