Steve Bannon criminal contempt charges recommended by House

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The House on Thursday voted to hold former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon in criminal contempt after failing to appear for a deposition before the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. 

The matter now moves to the Department of Justice, which will determine whether to prosecute Mr. Brannon. Criminal contempt charges can carry a sentence of up to a year in prison. 

The measure passed 229-202.  

Nine Republicans voted to pursue charges against Mr. Bannon, while only two Republicans, Reps. Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, voted in June to establish the Democrat-controlled committee to investigate the Jan. 6 riot. Ms. Cheney and Mr. Kinzinger serve on the committee, which is seeking the charges.

“We didn’t choose to be here. This isn’t about punishing Steve Bannon,” Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the special committee investigating the riot, said on the House floor Thursday.

“The select committee would prefer and frankly expect all witnesses to fully cooperate. But Steve Bannon has led us down this path by refusing to cooperate in any way with our investigation.” he said.

Lawmakers on the panel say Mr. Bannon was in communication with President Trump in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and made statements prior to the date, which they say indicate his foreknowledge of the events that unfolded.

In September, the committee issued a subpoena demanding that Mr. Bannon produce “documents and communications” related to his alleged involvement in Mr. Trump’s efforts to contest the 2020 presidential election and appear for a deposition scheduled for last week.

Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, Robert Costello, sent a letter to the House panel last week indicating that his client would not participate in the scheduled deposition, citing the former president’s assertion of executive privilege, which he said had yet to be ironed out by the committee.

In response, Mr. Thompson said the former president’s assertion, at the time, had not been communicated to the committee and did not absolve Mr. Bannon from participating in the investigation.

The committee says Mr. Trump’s claim of executive privilege, even if valid, would not apply to Mr. Bannon, who left the administration in 2017, and say his failure to appear for the scheduled deposition amounts to criminal contempt. The panel voted unanimously Tuesday to refer charges to the Justice Department

Some House Republicans argue that the Democratic-controlled committee’s push to charge Mr. Bannon is a partisan hit job. 

Steve Bannon was a private citizen before, after and during Jan. 6,” said Rep. Jim Banks, Indiana Republican, on the House floor Thursday. 

“So why is the select committee interested in Steve Bannon? It’s simple,” he said. “He is a Democrat Party boogie man. The select committee despises Steve Bannon’s politics, so they’re abusing their power to put him in jail.”  

On Wednesday, the House Rules Committee held a procedural hearing on the vote before the measure moved to the House floor. The hearing quickly became a flashpoint when Republican Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Matt Gaetz of Florida argued that the Democrats’ pursuit of contempt charges against Mr. Bannon was an unjustifiable partisan attack.

Democrats on the rules committee seized on the Republicans’ remarks, and the hearing, at several points, erupted into highly charged arguments.  

House Rules Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern, Massachusetts Democrat, used the opportunity to grill Mr. Jordan over phone conversations he had with President Trump on Jan. 6, which could be further pursued as part of the Jan. 6 committee’s probe. 

“I just don’t know of another member of Congress who is as deeply enmeshed in all of this as you are,” Mr. McGovern said.  

Mr. Jordan previously has acknowledged that he spoke with Mr. Trump on Jan. 6 but said he was not involved with the incident at the Capitol.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, Maryland Democrat, also pressed Mr. Jordan on why he wouldn’t support contempt charges for Mr. Bannon after backing criminal contempt charges against former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012 and former IRS official Lois Lerner in 2014. 

“Don’t you think it’s important that when we’re exercising our Article One powers to get the evidence we need in order to legislate that people obey the subpoenas of the United States House of Representatives?” Mr. Raskin said. “You used to believe that, Mr. Jordan? Do you no longer believe that?”

“When it’s a legitimate investigation, sure,” Mr. Jordan responded. 

The GOP-controlled House voted 255-67 to hold Mr. Holder in contempt of Congress over what Republicans said was false testimony concerning the 2011 Operation Fast and Furious scandal and later failing to provide requested documents by the House Oversight and Reform Committee. 

All but two Republicans voted to hold Mr. Holder in contempt. The Obama administration’s Justice Department declined to prosecute Mr. Holder on the charges and later cleared him of any wrongdoing. 

The GOP-led House voted 231-187 to hold Ms. Lerner in contempt of Congress after she refused to testify before a congressional committee, citing the Fifth Amendment, about the IRS’ admission that the agency had applied special scrutiny to conservative organizations that claimed tax-exempt status. 

The measure was supported by all Republicans and six Democrats. The Justice Department declined to prosecute Ms. Lerner on the charges. 

Thursday’s vote comes as Mr. Trump attempts to stymie the committee’s probe by telling his former advisers not to answer and by suing the committee over its attempts to obtain White House documents.

On Monday, Mr. Trump sued federal officials over the release of documents related to the Jan. 6 probe.

Mr. Trump’s legal team says in the lawsuit that the House committee has “no legitimate legislative purpose” for its request. The legal team also continues to press its claim that, as a former president, Mr. Trump enjoys “inherent constitutional rights of privilege.”

“The select committee’s authority to seek these records is clear,” Mr. Thompson and Ms. Cheney said. “We’ll fight the former president’s attempt to obstruct our investigation while we continue to push ahead successfully with our probe on a number of other fronts.”

The House vote also comes as several other former Trump officials are scheduled to appear before the committee, including Kash Patel, who was chief of staff to former acting Secretary of Defense Christopher Miller, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former Deputy Chief of Staff Dan Scavino and former Department of Justice official Jeffrey Clark.

The committee has postponed Mr. Patel’s and Mr. Meadows’ appearances, which were scheduled for last week, according to an aide who said the two continue to “engage” with the investigation. Mr. Scavino’s deposition has been postponed because of a delay in issuing his subpoena.

Several members of the committee have indicated their commitment to hold those who fail to participate in the probe in contempt, and President Biden urged Congress to prosecute those who defy the committee’s subpoenas.

The Justice Department quickly shot down any perception they would be swayed by the White House. 

“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop,” said Justice Department spokesperson Anthony Coley after Mr. Biden’s remarks.

Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told the House Judiciary Committee in a hearing Thursday that he will “apply the facts and the law and make a decision” as to whether to prosecute Mr. Bannon

“The Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we’ll apply the facts and the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution,” he said.

The Justice Department has not prosecuted a congressional referral for criminal contempt since 1974, when Nixon campaign aide and Watergate mastermind G. Gordon Liddy was found guilty of the charges in the wake of the scandal. 

• Emily Zantow contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire-service reports. 

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