The House select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol voted Tuesday night to recommend that former White House strategist Steve Bannon be held in contempt of Congress after he declined to respond to a subpoena from the panel.
The nine-member committee unanimously adopted its report recommending that Bannon be found in contempt. If the full House of Representatives approves the report, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will certify it and refer it to federal prosecutors in Washington for a potential grand jury presentation.
“It’s a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position, but we won’t take no for an answer,” committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said in remarks prior to the vote.
The report, which was made public Monday, alleges that Bannon “appears to have played a multi-faceted role in the events of January 6th, and the American people are entitled to hear his first-hand testimony regarding his actions.”
The report quotes Bannon as saying on his Jan. 5 “War Room” podcast: “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen. OK, it’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in … All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
The vote took place one day after former President Donald Trump filed a lawsuit in an effort to block the release of documents to the committee, arguing that they fell under the purview of executive privilege.
“The Committee’s request amounts to nothing less than a vexatious, illegal fishing expedition openly endorsed by Biden and designed to unconstitutionally investigate President Trump and his administration,” reads the lawsuit, which names the committee; Thompson; the National Archives, which stores presidential records; and archivist David Ferriero as defendants.
Bannon was initially subpoenaed for documents and testimony on Sept. 23, along with former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House communications official Dan Scavino and former Pentagon official Kash Patel.
Last week, Bannon attorney Robert Costello argued in a letter to the committee that his client, who was fired from his White House job in August 2017, was “not required to respond” to the subpoena since Costello had been told that Trump “is exercising his executive privilege” and that Bannon had been instructed by the ex-president’s lawyer “not to produce documents or testify until the issue of executive privilege is resolved.”
“That is is an issue between the Committee and President Trump’s counsel and Mr. Bannon is not required to respond at this time,” Costello wrote.
In response, Thompson accused Bannon of “hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely.” On Tuesday, Thompson said Trump’s lawsuit was “immaterial” to Bannon’s defiance of the subpoena.
On Friday, President Biden told reporters that the Justice Department should pursue criminal charges against anyone who did not respond to a subpoena from the committee.
“I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable criminally,” Biden told reporters on the White House South Lawn. Federal prosecutors typically enjoy a great deal of discretion when it comes to contempt cases.
The violence at the Capitol, which disrupted the congressional count of the 2020 presidential election results, led directly to the deaths of five people, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt.