By MARY CLARE JALONICK, ERIC TUCKER and LISA MASCARO
WASHINGTON (AP) – A Congressional committee investigating the Jan.6 insurgency on Capitol Hill acted aggressively against Trump’s close adviser Steve Bannon on Thursday, quickly scheduling a vote to recommend charges of criminal contempt against the former White House aide after defying a subpoena.
The chairman of the special committee, Representative Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., Said the panel would vote on Tuesday to recommend charges against Bannon, an adviser to Donald Trump for years who had been in contact with the president before the assault. most serious against Congress in two centuries.
“The select committee will not tolerate contempt for our subpoenas,” Thompson said in a statement. Bannon, he said, “hides behind the former president’s insufficient, general and vague statements regarding the privileges he purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely.
If approved by the Democratic-majority committee, the recommendation for criminal charges would go to the entire House. The approval would send them to the Department of Justice, which has the final say on the prosecution.
The clash with Bannon is just one facet of a large and growing congressional investigation, with 19 subpoenas issued to date and thousands of pages of documents circulating to the committee and its staff. Challenging Bannon’s challenge is a crucial step for the panel, whose members pledge to restore the strength of congressional subpoenas after they were routinely flouted during Trump’s tenure.
The committee had scheduled a deposition Thursday with Bannon, but his lawyer said Trump ordered him not to comply, citing information potentially protected by executive privileges granted to a president. Bannon, who was not a White House staff member on Jan.6, also did not provide any documents to the panel before the deadline last week.
Yet the committee could once again find itself in a bind after years of refusal by Trump administration officials to cooperate with Congress. Trump’s longtime adviser also defied a subpoena during a GOP investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia in 2018, but the House did not act to despise him.
Even though President Joe Biden has supported the committee’s work, it is uncertain whether the Justice Department would choose to pursue the criminal contempt charges against Bannon or any other witness who might challenge the panel. Even if the department takes legal action, the process could take months or even years. And such cases of contempt are notoriously difficult to win.
Committee members are pressuring the ministry to take their side.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who also sits on the Jan. 6 panel, said he expects the Justice Department to pursue cases.
“The past four years have made people like Steve Bannon feel like they’re above the law,” Schiff said in an interview for C-SPAN’s Book TV to air next weekend. . “But they will find out otherwise.”
Schiff said efforts to despise Bannon and others during the Russia investigation have been blocked by Republicans and the Trump administration’s Justice Department.
“But now we have Merrick Garland, we have an independent Justice Department, we have an attorney general who believes in the rule of law – and that’s why I’m confident we’ll get the answers,” Schiff said. .
While Bannon bluntly defied the Jan.6 committee, other Trump aides who have been subpoenaed appear to be negotiating. A deposition from a second witness that was scheduled for Thursday, former Defense Ministry official Kashyap Patel, has been delayed, but Patel is still in contact with the panel, a committee aide said. The aide requested anonymity to discuss the confidential talks.
Two other men who worked for Trump – former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and longtime Trump social media director Dan Scavino – were due to be dropped off on Friday, but they were both also pushed back. Meadows, like Patel, received a “short postponement” because he also engages with the panel, the aide said, and Scavino’s deposition has been postponed due to delays in serving his summons.
It is unclear to what extent Trump attempted to influence his aides, beyond attempts by his lawyers to assert executive privilege. In a statement Thursday, the former president said committee members should “see themselves as criminal contempt” and added “the people are not going to tolerate it!”
Other witnesses are cooperating, including some who organized or moderated the Trump rally on the Ellipse behind the White House that preceded the riot. The committee summoned 11 rally organizers and gave them a deadline on Wednesday to hand over the documents and files. They were also invited to appear for scheduled depositions.
Among those who complied were Lyndon Brentnall, whose company was hired to provide security for the Ellipse events that day, and two longtime members of the Trump campaign and the White House, Megan Powers and Hannah Salem. . It is not certain that the other persons summoned to appear complied.
Many rioters who stormed the Capitol on Jan.6 marched up the National Mall after attending at least part of Trump’s rally, where he repeated his baseless claims of voter fraud and begged the crowd to ” fight like hell ”. Dozens of police were injured as Trump supporters overwhelmed them and smashed windows and doors to disrupt Biden’s certification of victory.
The rioters repeated Trump’s allegations of widespread fraud as they marched on Capitol Hill, even though the election results were confirmed by state officials and confirmed by the courts. Trump’s attorney general William Barr had said the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have overturned the results.
The panel also issued a subpoena to a former Justice Department attorney who has positioned himself as Trump’s ally and helped the Republican president challenge the 2020 election results.
Requests for documents and testimony from lawyer Jeffrey Clark announced on Wednesday reflect the committee’s efforts to investigate not only the insurgency, but also the uproar that rocked the Justice Department in the weeks leading up to it. preceded as Trump and his allies relied on the government. lawyers to advance his electoral demands.
Clark, deputy attorney general in the Trump administration, has become a central figure. A Senate committee report released last week showed support for Trump’s efforts to overturn the election results and as a result opposed departmental superiors who resisted the pressure, resulting in a dramatic meeting at the White House in which Trump brooded over Clark’s rise to attorney general.
Associated Press editors Jill Colvin in New York, Michelle R. Smith in Providence, Rhode Island, and Farnoush Amiri and Zeke Miller in Washington contributed to this report.