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House Votes to Recommend Contempt Charges Against Bannon

October 22, 2021 by Dan McCue
In this photo from Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018, Steve Bannon, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, talks about the approaching midterm election during an interview with The Associated Press, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives has voted to recommend that Steve Bannon, a long-time aide to former President Donald Trump, be held in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol.

The 229-202 vote came just two days after the committee recommended the contempt charges against Bannon in a unanimous vote Tuesday evening.

Nine Republicans joined in rebuking Bannon for defying the committee’s subpoena that he provide records and testify before the panel.

Robert Costello, Bannon’s lawyer, cited a letter from an attorney for Trump that directed him not to answer questions. Trump has sued the National Archives on tenuous grounds of executive privilege, in an attempt to stymie or at least dramatically slow the investigation.

But the committee has noted Bannon did not work at the White House at the time of the siege on the Capitol.

Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chair of the committee, has pointed out Bannon spoke with Trump before insurrectionists loyal to the ex-presidents fought their way inside the building and promoted the event on his podcast, predicting the unrest that eventually unfolded.

“Mr. Bannon’s own public statements make clear he knew what was going to happen before it did. And thus, he must have been aware of and may well have been involved in the planning of everything that played out on that day,”said Rep. Liz Cheney, of Wyoming, one of two Republican members of the Jan. 6 committee. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”

From the start of its inquiry, Thompson said the panel would move quickly to punish anyone who defied the committee and refused to cooperate with investigators.

So far Bannon is the only individual who has completely defied the subpoena. Another dozen or so subpoenaed witnesses are reported to be negotiating with the committee.

Before the vote, House Majority Leader Steny Holder urged his colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support the measure, saying congressional oversight on critical matters is not possible if the house cannot request, “and indeed, demand” testimony of those who have information it needs.

Referring to Trump as “the man who would be dictator,” Hoyer said he firmly believes the former president “recruited, incited, and deployed an insurrectionist mob to threaten this institution, its members, its constitutional responsibility in the electoral process of the presidency of the United States, and democracy itself.”

Turning to Bannon, Hoyer called his refusal to appear before the House Select Committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol “a demonstration of his contempt not only for Congress but his contempt of the Constitution, and his contempt for the law. 

“Withholding information on the events of that day from the committee is no less than an act of betrayal of the American people and of our Constitutional democracy,” Hoyer said. 

“This is a moment of reckoning for our country; reckoning with hard truths and painful memories, reckoning that above all requires truth and understanding,” he added.

House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn, of South Carolina, quoted the philosopher George Santayana, repeating the Spaniard’s famous line, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

“The insurrection on Jan. 6 was the worst attack on our Constitution since the Civil War. While the secessionists were defeated in 1865, our nation’s experiment with multiracial democracy during Reconstruction did not last,” Clyburn said.

“It was extinguished by the lost cause mythology that minimized the evils of the secessionists and raised monuments to the leaders of the confederacy that they established,” he continued. 

“These willful circumventions and misrepresentations were used as justification for avoiding accountability and violently stripping African Americans of Constitutional rights.

“We are at risk of repeating that history today. Just as the lost cause laid the ideological groundwork for Jim Crow and all its inhumanities, the big lie seeks to justify voter nullification laws that seek to suppress votes and establish autocratic rule.

“The former president and his enablers are using the big lie to deny the horror of Jan. 6. They are attempting to obstruct and subvert the Select Committee’s work and to prevent a full accounting of their efforts to undermine our democracy,” Clyburn said.

“We know from our history that when our government is attacked, failing to hold the perpetrators accountable emboldens them. Allowing their myths to gain currency incentivizes them. And underestimating their disregard for their fellow citizens enables them to deny those citizens their constitutional rights,” he said, adding, “We must act to strengthen our democracy and build a better future for our country so that it can once again, be the envy of the world.”

Before the vote got underway, Trump himself weighed in via email, saying “The insurrection took place on Nov. 3, Election Day. Jan. 6 was the protest!”

Later, Rep.Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House rules committee, condemned the former president and his acolytes.

“We live in an age where apparently some put fidelity to Donald Trump over fidelity to the constitution. I find that disgusting,” McGovern said. “He is so feared that my Republican colleagues are going to keep denying what happened that day.”

Now that the full House has voted to hold Bannon in contempt, the matter will then be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington.

Because contempt of Congress charges are so rare, there’s some disagreement on the steps after that. While most legal observers expect the matter to be referred to a grand jury, the decision to prosecute will ultimately fall to the Justice Department, and specifically to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

Garland happened to be on Capitol Hill Thursday, testifying before the House Judiciary Committee.

At one point, Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler mentioned to Garland that “evidence suggests that you will soon have some hard decisions to make about those who organized and incited the attack.”

 But Garland declined to say whether he will move forward with charges against Bannon.

“We’ll apply the facts in the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution,” he told the committee.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue.

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