Panel probing attack on U.S. Capitol threatens Bannon with contempt

FILE PHOTO: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court in New York City
FILE PHOTO: Former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court, following his arraignment hearing for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering, in the Manhattan borough of New York City, New York, U.S. August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly/File Photo

October 15, 2021

By Patricia Zengerle

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -A U.S. congressional committee probing the deadly Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol said on Thursday it would vote next week to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime adviser to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The House of Representatives Select Committee said it scheduled a vote on Tuesday on a report documenting the case for contempt against Bannon, a first step toward criminal charges.

“The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt,” the committee’s Democratic chairman, Representative Bennie Thompson, said in a statement.

The Democratic-led panel was formed to investigate the January attack on the Capitol by Trump supporters as Trump sought to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Trump has falsely claimed his loss to President Joe Biden was fraudulent.

If the House committee approves the contempt case against Bannon, the matter would go to a full House vote. The Justice Department would ultimately decide whether to prosecute the Republican political strategist.

An attorney for Bannon, who was asked to give a deposition on Thursday, referred to a letter saying his client would not provide testimony or documents until the committee reached an agreement with Trump over executive privilege or a court ruled on the matter.

Trump had urged former aides to refuse to cooperate, citing executive privilege. The Republican former president issued a statement on Thursday repeating his false fraud allegations and saying his supporters “are not going to stand for it.”

Thompson dismissed the executive privilege argument. “Mr. Bannon has declined to cooperate with the Select Committee and is instead hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely.”

Hundreds of Trump supporters forced their way into the seat of the U.S. government on Jan. 6, as Vice President Mike Pence and lawmakers met to certify Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the November 2020 presidential election.

The attack on the Capitol forced Pence, lawmakers, staff and journalists to flee, and delayed certification of the election result for several hours. Four people died that day, one shot to death by police and the others of natural causes. More than 100 police officers were injured, one dying the next day. Four officers later committed suicide.

The Bannon subpoena was one of more than a dozen issued by the Select Committee, with some depositions originally scheduled as soon as this week. But those have been delayed as some of those subpoenaed have been negotiating with the panel.

A committee aide said two scheduled depositions – by Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and Kash Patel, a former Defense Department official – were delayed for a short time because they are continuing to engage with the panel.

A deposition by Dan Scavino, former White House deputy chief of staff for communications, was also put off because of delays in delivering his subpoena. Patel had been due to give a deposition on Thursday and Meadows and Scavino on Friday.

Anyone found guilty of contempt of Congress faces a fine and up to 12 months’ in prison.

(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle, additional reporting by Sarah N. Lynch and Jan Wolfe; Editing by Chris Reese, Leslie Adler and Cynthia Osterman)