Steve Bannon, the former Trump Advisor, has been indicted by the federal grand jury on Friday, for refusing to answer questions from the House Committee on the Jan. 6 Capitol Riot. This has been a first of its kind, where one is charged with contempt of Congress, asserted with executive privilege. He seemed unaware of the breaking news behind him.
Bannon was charged on Friday with two contempt counts- first for refusing to appear for a deposition and second to refuse to produce documents requested by the House. If guilty, Bannon could face up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000.
A law enforcement official said Bannon is expected to appear in court on Monday afternoon. His attorney nor Bannon have immediately responded to the request for comment.
Attorney General Merrick Garland issued a brief statement stating, “Since my first day in office,” he said, “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. Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.”
The committee has currently subpoenaed 16 former Trump allies for producing documents, testimony, or both. Despite executive privilege, the Justice Department charged Bannon with criminal contempt, a move that might help put a strain on other witnesses to cooperate with the investigation.
Committee Chair, Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and ranking member Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a joint statement on Friday that this should serve as a warning to all the former Trump officials who are considering defying the subpoenas.
“Steve Bannon’s 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,” the lawmakers said. “We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need.”
There is proof of Bannon being involved in the US Capitol Riot, with committee members mentioning certain comments Bannon made on a radio program the day before the attack.
“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he said on the program.
This statement gives suggestions that he had prior knowledge about the events that would occur the next day.
Bannon’s lawyer, Robert Costello, told the committee in a letter that Bannon is refusing the subpoena. The letter also stated that the former President is choosing to assert executive privilege, encouraging his former allies to not reveal anything that might be covered by the privilege.
The extent of this executive privilege asserted by the former President has never been clear. For this issue, an oral argument has been scheduled by the US Court of Appeals of the District of Columbia for Nov. 30 and to discuss the dispute between Trump and the National Archives over the Trump White House Documents.
Now, like any other criminal charges, Bannon will have to go through the standard procedures in the federal court. He will be arraigned and will enter a plea. Unless he is guilty, the judge will set a trial date. A conviction though will not require him to appear and testify before the House committee. Obtaining proof of conviction requires proof of actions with improper intents and, Bannon may reason that he was acting on advice from his lawyer not to testify.
There are few successful prosecutions for contempt of Congress. This was widely invoked in the 1950s, however, many of the cases ended in either acquittal or dismissal on appeal. The last Justice Department prosecution for contempt was in 1983, during the Superfund investigation in the Reagan administration. Former EPA, Rita Lavelle was charged with contempt, however, her case ended in an acquittal.