The House of Representatives has decided to hold Steve Bannon, a longstanding supporter and advisor to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurgency.
The committee’s Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, and Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel, led the floor discussion in a rare show of cooperation on the House floor. Despite this, the vote on Thursday was 229-202, with all but nine Republican legislators voting “no.”
The House decision advances the case to the United States Attorney’s Office in Washington, where prosecutors will determine whether or not to bring the evidence to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. It’s still unclear if they’ll pursue the case – Attorney General Merrick Garland said only that they’ll “make a judgment consistent with the standards of prosecution” during a House hearing on Thursday.
The political divide over Bannon’s subpoena — and the committee’s inquiry in general — typifies the deep sensitivities that still exist in Congress nine months after the Capitol attack.
Hundreds of Trump supporters smashed their way past police, injuring scores of cops and disrupting the electoral count confirming President Joe Biden’s November victory, Democrats have promised a thorough investigation. Members of the panel said they would act quickly and harshly against anyone who refuses to assist with the investigation.
Thompson stated ahead of the vote, “We will not allow anyone to disrupt our work because our job is too essential.”
Republicans have dubbed the investigation a “witch hunt,” claiming that it is a waste of time and that Congress should be focused on more pressing issues.
The inquiry is a “illicit criminal investigation of American individuals,” according to Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, who leads the GOP opposition on the House floor, and Bannon is a “Democrat party boogeyman.”
The only two Republicans on the panel, Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, have openly condemned Trump and his involvement in fomenting the insurgency, while the rest of House Republicans have stayed mute in the face of Trump’s bogus claims of huge election fraud. Election authorities, courts throughout the country, and Trump’s own attorney general all dismissed Trump’s allegations.
After Bannon skipped a scheduled interview with the panel last week, citing a letter from Trump’s counsel instructing him not to answer questions, the committee voted 9-0 on Tuesday to recommend contempt charges. Bannon did not work at the White House at the time of the incident, according to the committee, and he not only communicated with Trump before to it, but he encouraged the demonstrations on his podcast and anticipated disruption. On January 5, Bannon predicted that “all hell will break loose.”
Bannon was the only witness who totally defied the panel’s subpoena, according to lawmakers on the panel, while more than a dozen other summoned witnesses were at least negotiating with them.
“Mr. Bannon’s own public remarks make plain that he knew what was going to happen before it did,” Cheney stated before of the vote. “Thus, he must have been aware of — and may well have been engaged in — the planning of everything that played out on that day.” “The people of the United States have a right to know what he knew and what he did.”
Republican Reps. Cheney and Kinzinger joined Cheney and Kinzinger in voting to hold Bannon in contempt. Michigan’s Peter Meijer and Fred Upton, Pennsylvania’s Brian Fitzpatrick, Ohio’s Anthony Gonzalez, New York’s John Katko, South Carolina’s Nancy Mace, and Washington’s Jaime Herrera Beutler
After the vote, Mace, who represents a political swing district, told reporters that she wanted to keep the power of subpoenas in the hands of future Republican majorities.
“When we start exploring some of the issues that the Biden administration is currently experiencing,” she added, citing immigration and the departure from Afghanistan as examples.
As he commemorated the 10th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the National Mall, Biden referenced the insurgency and tied it to the country’s difficult history.
“We’re addressing the scars of what remains a profound stain on the nation’s soul: hatred and white supremacy,” Biden said, drawing a line from slavery to the current day in American history.
“In my opinion, the violent, murderous insurgency on the Capitol nine months ago was about white supremacy,” he stated.
Biden apologized on Thursday for appearing to meddle with the Justice Department’s choices in comments last week. He had previously stated that people who disobey congressional subpoenas should be prosecuted.
During a CNN town hall, Biden acknowledged, “I should have chosen my words more intelligently.” “I didn’t, haven’t, and won’t pick up the phone and tell the attorney general what he should and shouldn’t do.”
Even if the Justice Department decides to prosecute, the matter may go on for years, possibly past the 2022 election, when Republicans might take control of the House and put an end to the probe.
Despite Democratic demands for action, there is still a lot of doubt about whether the department will pursue the accusations. It’s a decision that will decide not just the efficacy of the House inquiry, but also the extent to which Congress may summon witnesses and demand information.
While the Justice Department has been hesitant to prosecute witnesses found in contempt of Congress in the past, the circumstances are unique, as legislators investigate the greatest attack on the United States Capitol in two centuries.
Democrats are urging Justice to take the case, claiming that it is a matter of democracy at stake.
Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland stated, “The stakes are huge.” “We’re talking about a huge, brutal attack on American democracy,” says the author.
The House has additional options if the Justice Department chooses not prosecute, including filing a civil case. It may take years, but Bannon and any other witnesses would have to defend themselves in court.
The simmering enmity over the insurgency and the Bannon subpoena erupted again Wednesday during a House Rules Committee meeting to set the boundaries for the discussion on Thursday. Under questioning from Raskin, Florida Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz, who backed Trump and opposed the Bannon contempt effort, said he accepts Biden as president but would not declare he won the election.
“I know it works on Steve Bannon’s podcast,” Raskin added, “but Mr. Gaetz, that’s not going to work in the Rules Committee of the United States House of Representatives.” Please accept my apologies.”