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Jan. 6 Panel Threatens to Pursue Charges Against Bannon | tnewst.com Press "Enter" to skip to content

Jan. 6 Panel Threatens to Pursue Charges Against Bannon

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WASHINGTON — The select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot threatened on Friday to pursue criminal charges against Stephen K. Bannon, the former chief strategist to President Donald J. Trump, for refusing to comply with its subpoena, announcing it would consider initiating criminal contempt of Congress proceedings.

In a statement after Mr. Bannon informed the panel that he would not cooperate in the inquiry, the panel’s leaders said they would “swiftly consider” the contempt referral, raising the prospect of what could be a prolonged legal battle over what could be crucial evidence in the investigation.

The committee has 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 and furnish documents and other materials relevant to its investigation.

Mr. Meadows and Mr. Patel have communicated some with the committee, according to the joint statement issued on Friday by Representatives Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the committee’s chairman, and Liz Cheney, Republican of Wyoming and the vice chair. Mr. Scavino has yet to be served.

In a letter to the panel on Thursday, Robert Costello, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, informed the committee that he would not comply. Mr. Costello said that Mr. Bannon was abiding by Mr. Trump’s directive for his former aides and advisers facing subpoenas to invoke immunity and refrain from turning over documents that might be protected under executive privilege.

“It is therefore clear to us that since the executive privileges belong to President Trump, and he has, through his counsel, announced his intention to assert those executive privileges enumerated above, we must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege,” Mr. Costello wrote.

In their statement, the leaders of the select committee rejected Mr. Bannon’s rationale for stonewalling their investigation.

“While Mr. Meadows and Mr. Patel are, so far, engaging with the Select Committee, Mr. Bannon has indicated that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former president,” the joint statement said. “The select committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony.”

“We will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock,” they added.

While Mr. Bannon worked at the White House in 2017, he departed in August of that year, and was not an executive branch employee in the lead-up to, or on, Jan. 6. It is not clear how executive privilege — which can shield White House deliberations or documents involving the president from disclosure — would apply to any interactions he may have had with Mr. Trump related to the riot, which occurred nearly four years after he left the administration.

“Steve Bannon was not in the executive branch and was not working for the president,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee. “Even if you make the assumption that Donald Trump has even a shred of executive privilege, how could that extend to Steve Bannon?”

The Biden administration on Friday said it would not extend executive privilege, which usually applies to a sitting president, to the former president for the first batch of documents requested by the committee. That means the committee would have access to a wide range of documents it requested from the National Archives.

“As part of this process, the president has determined that an assertion of executive privilege is not warranted for the first set of documents from the Trump White House,” Jen Psaki, the White House spokeswoman, said Friday.

The development sets up a potential legal battle between Mr. Trump’s claims of executive privilege and the committee, which is scrutinizing efforts by the former president to overturn the results of the 2020 election and any connections he or his administration may have had to the rioters.

Mr. Raskin, who is a constitutional law professor, said executive privilege hinges on whether national security concerns outweigh the need for government transparency. In this case, he said, they are not in conflict.

“There is no coup-against-the-government privilege a president can invoke,” he said. “They are trafficking in absurdities.”

Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Bannon’s strategies seem clear, Mr. Raskin said: Attempt to slow down the committee’s work long enough to allow Republicans to win control of the House in the 2022 midterm elections, when they could move to dissolve the committee.

“The whole game is to drag this out as long as possible, to see whether they can mobilize enough voter suppression to get Congress to change hands,” he said. “We’re not going to let people play games and sweep evidence under the rug.”

In a letter reviewed by The New York Times this week, Mr. Trump’s lawyer asked that witnesses not provide testimony or documents related to their “official” duties, and instead to invoke any immunities they might have “to the fullest extent permitted by law.”

Mr. Costello, the lawyer for Mr. Bannon, wrote in his letter, which was also obtained by The Times, that his client would “comply with the directions of the courts,” but that for now, “Mr. Bannon is legally unable to comply with your subpoena requests for documents and testimony.”

It was unclear whether Mr. Bannon was planning to go to court.

Mr. Bannon’s refusal to comply with the committee came as the panel issued three more subpoenas on Thursday, targeting organizers of the “Stop the Steal” rally that brought together many of Mr. Trump’s supporters who went on to violently storm the Capitol.

The latest subpoenas seek deposition testimony from Ali Abdul Akbar, also known as Ali Alexander, and Nathan Martin, both of whom were involved in organizing protests around the country — including in Washington on Jan. 6 — based on Mr. Trump’s lies that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election and that it had been riddled with fraud. The committee also issued a subpoena for Stop the Steal L.L.C., an organization affiliated with the event.

Mr. Alexander issued a statement in response, saying he was “being targeted because I am a Black patriotic man peacefully agitating an insecure government.”

Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.


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