WASHINGTON — A congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection has moved aggressively against close Trump adviser Steve Bannon, swiftly scheduling a vote to recommend criminal contempt charges against the former White House aide after he defied a subpoena.
The chairman of the special committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said the panel will vote Tuesday to recommend charges against Bannon, an adviser to Donald Trump for years who was in touch with the president ahead of the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries. And late Friday, President Joe Biden said he thinks his Justice Department should prosecute.
“The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas,” Thompson said in a statement Thursday. Bannon, he said, is “hiding behind the former president’s insufficient, blanket and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke. We reject his position entirely.”
If approved by the Democratic-majority committee, the recommendation of criminal charges would go to the full House. Approval there would send them to the Justice Department, which has final say on prosecution.
Asked if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes.
“I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable,” Biden told reporters Friday at the White House.
The showdown with Bannon is one facet of a congressional inquiry, with 19 subpoenas issued so far and thousands of pages of documents flowing to the committee. Challenging Bannon’s defiance is a crucial step for the panel, whose members are vowing to restore the force of congressional subpoenas.
The committee had scheduled a Thursday deposition with Bannon, but his lawyer said Trump had directed him not to produce any information protected by executive privileges afforded to a president, and Bannon wouldn’t comply “until these issues are resolved.” Bannon, who was not a White House staffer on Jan. 6, also failed to provide documents to the panel by a deadline last week.
Still, the committee could end up stymied again after years of Trump administration officials refusing to cooperate with Congress. The longtime Trump adviser similarly defied a subpoena during a GOP-led investigation into Trump’s Russia ties in 2018, but the House did not hold him into contempt.
Even though Biden has been supportive of the committee’s work, it is uncertain whether the Justice Department would choose to prosecute the criminal contempt charges against Bannon or any other witnesses who might defy the panel.