A Congressional Committee in the US has voted unanimously to hold Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former White House advisor, in contempt of Congress after he refused to appear before lawmakers investigating the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol.
Bannon was a key aide to former president Donald Trump until he was fired in 2017.
The committee says it is pursuing Bannon’s testimony because of his reported communications with Trump ahead of the January 6 siege this year, in which dozens of police officers were injured, and elected officials ran for their lives as Trump supporters fought their way in to the Capitol building in Washington DC.
Donald Trump is attempting to block the committee’s work, telling Bannon and others not to answer questions put to them, and filing a lawsuit to stop Congress from obtaining documents related to his time in the White House.
Bannon’s communications with Trump ahead of the insurrection, his efforts to get Trump to focus on the congressional certification of Joe Biden’s election victory, and his comments on January 5 that “all hell is going to break loose” the next day, are all of interest to the committee.
Bannon defied a subpoena for documents and testimony, but the committee said on Tuesday it would not take no for an answer.
The committee’s chairman, Bennie Thompson, said Bannon “stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena”, and while Bannon may be “willing to be a martyr to the disgraceful cause of whitewashing what happened on January 6th — of demonstrating his complete loyalty to the former president,” the contempt vote is a warning to other witnesses.
“We won’t be deterred. We won’t be distracted. And we won’t be delayed,” Thompson said.
The Tuesday evening vote sends the contempt resolution to the full House, which is expected to vote on the measure on Thursday.
House approval would send the matter to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether to pursue criminal charges against Bannon.
The contempt resolution asserts that the former Trump aide and podcast host has no legal standing to rebuff the committee — even as Trump’s lawyer has argued that Bannon should not disclose information because it is protected by the privilege of the former president’s office.
Bannon “appears to have had multiple roles relevant to this investigation, including his role in constructing and participating in the ‘stop the steal’ public relations effort that motivated the attack" and "his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th,” the committee wrote in the resolution recommending contempt.
The vote came a day after Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to fight the release of documents the committee has requested.
Trump’s lawsuit, filed after Biden said he’d allow the documents’ release, claims that the panel’s August request was overly broad and a “vexatious, illegal fishing expedition.”
Trump’s suit seeks to invalidate the entirety of the congressional request, calling it overly broad, unduly burdensome and a challenge to separation of powers. It requests a court injunction to bar the archivist from producing the documents.
The Biden administration, in clearing the documents for release, said the violent siege of the Capitol more than nine months ago was such an extraordinary circumstance that it merited waiving the privilege that usually protects White House communications.