House Finds Bannon in Contempt for Defying Jan. 6 Inquiry Subpoena
“The vote came after a bitterly partisan debate over the Capitol attack and as Republicans sought to deflect questions about Donald J. Trump’s role in the violence.
WASHINGTON — The House voted on Thursday to find Stephen K. Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for stonewalling the investigation into the Jan. 6 Capitol attack, pressing for information from a close ally of Donald J. Trump even as Republicans moved to insulate the former president from accountability.
The vote of 229 to 202, mostly along party lines, came after Mr. Bannon refused to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the assault, declining to provide the panel with documents and testimony. The action sent the matter to the Justice Department, which now must decide whether to prosecute Mr. Bannon and potentially set off a legal fight that could drag on for months or years.
But what was clear on Thursday was that nine months after the deadliest attack on the Capitol in two centuries, many Republicans in Congress remain bent on whitewashing, ignoring or even validating what took place as their party continues to embrace the lie of a stolen election. Only nine Republicans joined Democrats in voting to enforce the panel’s subpoena.
The rest followed the lead of Mr. Trump, who in a statement before the vote derided the election he lost as a crime and praised the mob attack — which injured 140 police officers and claimed several lives — as a legitimate response.
“The insurrection took place on Nov. 3, Election Day,” Mr. Trump wrote. “Jan. 6 was the protest!”
Before the vote, Republicans argued that the investigation — which Democrats undertook after Republicans blocked the formation of an independent, bipartisan inquiry — was a partisan exercise devised to smear Mr. Trump and persecute his supporters for their political beliefs.
On the House floor, Representative Jim Jordan, Republican of Ohio and an ardent Trump supporter, accused the committee of harassing Mr. Bannon and organizers of the “Stop the Steal” rally that preceded the riot.
“You’re involved in political activity? They’re going to investigate you,” Mr. Jordan said. “You know what this is really about: getting at President Trump.”
Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts, condemned the former president’s comments and the way Republicans continued to follow his lead.
“We live in an age where apparently, some put fidelity to Donald Trump over fidelity to the Constitution,” he said.
“He is so feared,” Mr. McGovern added, “that my Republican colleagues are going to keep denying what happened that day.”
Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, who broke sharply with Mr. Trump, pleaded with her fellow Republicans to stop following him down a path that she warned would lead to ruin.
“There’s a moment when politics must stop if we want to defend and protect our institutions,” said Ms. Cheney, the vice chairwoman of the select committee. “A violent assault on the Capitol to stop a constitutional process of counting electoral votes is that moment.”
The question of what will happen to Mr. Bannon now goes to the Justice Department, where Attorney General Merrick B. Garland has declined to say whether he will move forward with charges.
“We’ll apply the facts in the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution,” he told the House Judiciary Committee during an oversight hearing on Thursday.
President Biden has endorsed prosecuting those who do not cooperate with the investigation. On Thursday, he made a point of condemning the riot and its origins.
“The violent, deadly insurrection on the Capitol nine months ago — it was about white supremacy,” Mr. Biden said in a speech on Thursday to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Martin Luther King Jr. monument in Washington.
Robert J. Costello, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, informed the House committee this month that his client would not comply with its subpoena, citing Mr. Trump’s directive for his former aides and advisers to invoke immunity and refrain from turning over documents that might be protected under executive privilege.
Under federal law, any person summoned as a congressional witness who refuses to comply can face a misdemeanor charge that carries a fine of $100 to $100,000 and a jail sentence of one month to one year.
Members of the investigative committee, which is controlled by Democrats, believe that Mr. Bannon has crucial information about plans to undermine Mr. Biden’s victory, including conversations Mr. Bannon had with Mr. Trump in which he urged the former president to focus his efforts on Jan. 6.
In its report recommending that the House find Mr. Bannon in contempt, the committee repeatedly cited comments he made on his radio show on Jan. 5 — when Mr. Bannon promised “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow” — as evidence that “he had some foreknowledge about extreme events that would occur the next day.”
“He was deeply involved in the so-called Stop the Steal campaign,” Representative Bennie Thompson, Democrat of Mississippi and the chairman of the committee, said of Mr. Bannon. “We know that the forces that tried to overturn the election persist in their assault on the rule of law.”
Ms. Cheney has suggested that Mr. Trump’s insistence on asserting executive privilege is evidence that he was “personally involved” in the plot to overturn the election on Jan. 6.
“Today,” she noted, “the former president suggested that the violence was justified.”
Ms. Cheney was one of nine Republicans to join House Democrats in voting to find Mr. Bannon in criminal contempt. The others were Representatives Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, the other Republican member of the panel; Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio; John Katko of New York; Nancy Mace of South Carolina; Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington; Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania; and Fred Upton and Peter Meijer, both of Michigan.
Understand the Claim of Executive Privilege in the Jan. 6. Inquiry
A key issue yet untested. Donald Trump’s power as former president to keep information from his White House secret has become a central issue in the House’s investigation of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Amid a new lawsuit by Mr. Trump and a move to hold Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress, here’s a breakdown of executive privilege:
All but two of them — Ms. Mace and Mr. Fitzpatrick — voted in January to impeach Mr. Trump on the charge of inciting an insurrection.
“There exists no conceivable interpretation of executive privilege that would encompass an individual outside of government conferring with senior government officials on nonofficial matters,” Mr. Meijer said in a statement.
Representative Kevin McCarthy of California had encouraged fellow Republicans to oppose the contempt referral. He called the committee’s subpoena “invalid” and said he agreed with Mr. Bannon that a court should decide whether he should comply.
“They are using this to target their opponents,” Mr. McCarthy said of Democrats.
Republicans, for their part, seized on the opportunity to defend Mr. Trump and repeat the lies that fueled the assault. They spent much of Wednesday in a committee room in the Capitol, rehashing debunked claims about voter fraud as they argued against moving forward on Mr. Bannon’s criminal referral.
Representative Matt Gaetz of Florida falsely claimed that the election had been “polluted” by people voting by mail, saying he believed, “had mail ballots not been sent to people who had not requested them, that Donald Trump would be sitting behind the Resolute Desk right now.”
Mr. Gaetz later appeared on Mr. Bannon’s podcast, where he received congratulations for his performance. The two men mocked members of the select committee and called its work a “setup.”
The case against Mr. Bannon is untested because he has not been an executive branch official since he left the White House in 2017, and any conversations he may have had with Mr. Trump pertaining to Jan. 6 are likely to have fallen outside the former president’s official duties. Executive privilege is generally extended to conversations or documents that pertain to presidential duties.
The Biden administration has rejected Mr. Trump’s executive privilege claims, arguing that no such protection can extend to an effort to undermine democracy.
Even by the standards of past congressional investigations, the Jan. 6 inquiry has been acrimonious. During the debate on Thursday, Ms. Cheney revealed that Representative Jim Banks of Indiana, an ally of Mr. McCarthy, had misrepresented himself as the top Republican on the committee in a letter to the Biden administration asking a cabinet official to share information that the committee had requested.
While Mr. McCarthy sought to seat Mr. Banks on the panel, he is not a member because Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California rejected his participation, citing his efforts to undermine the election results and the Jan. 6 investigation.
Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland and a member of the committee, called Mr. Banks’s letter “delusional and fantastical” and suggested that it might break House rules.
During the vote, Republican divisions over the inquiry flared on the House floor. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, Republican of Georgia and a backer of Mr. Trump, confronted Ms. Cheney and called her “a joke.”
Ms. Cheney responded, according to two people with knowledge of the exchange, by instructing Ms. Greene to focus on her “Jewish space laser” conspiracy theory, a reference to a 2018 Facebook post in which Ms. Greene suggested that a wildfire in California was started by a laser beamed from space and controlled by a prominent Jewish banking family with ties to Democrats.
Jonathan Weisman contributed reporting.“
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