Steve Bannon, a longtime ally to former President Donald Trump, was indicted Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress after he defied a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Justice Department said Bannon, 67, was indicted on one count for refusing to appear for a deposition and the other for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. It wasn’t immediately clear when he would be due in court.
The indictment comes as a second witness, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, defied a similar subpoena from the committee on Friday. The chairman of the panel, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, said he will be recommending contempt charges against Meadows next week.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Bannon's indictment reflects the Justice Department’s “steadfast commitment” to ensuring that the department adheres to the rule of law. Each count carries a minimum of 30 days of jail and a sentence of up to a year behind bars.
Bannon’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message-seeking comment.
This is not the first time Bannon has faced legal peril. In August of last year, he was pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested on allegations that he and three associates ripped off donors trying to fund a southern border wall. Trump later pardoned Bannon in the final hours of his presidency.
Meadows had been in discussions with the committee since his subpoena was issued in September, but his lawyer said Friday that Meadows has a “sharp legal dispute” with the panel as Trump has claimed executive privilege over the testimony.
Thompson had threatened contempt charges against Meadows in a letter to the lawyer, George Terwilliger, on Thursday, saying that if he failed to appear to answer the committee's questions Friday it would be considered “willful non-compliance." The committee would first have to vote on the contempt recommendation, then the full House would vote to send it to the Justice Department.
Meadows' refusal to comply comes amid escalating legal battles between the committee and Trump as the former president has claimed privilege over documents and interviews the lawmakers are demanding.
The White House said in a letter Thursday that President Joe Biden would waive any privilege that would prevent Meadows from cooperating with the committee, prompting his lawyer to say Meadows wouldn't comply.
“Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts,” said the lawyer, George Terwilliger. “It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues.”
As the sitting president, Biden has so far waived most of Trump's assertions of privilege over documents. U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has backed Biden's position, noting in one ruling this week that “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”
The panel's proceedings and attempts to gather information have been delayed as Trump appealed Chutkan's rulings. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of some of the White House records the panel is seeking, giving that court time to consider Trump's arguments.
Still, the House panel is continuing its work, and lawmakers have already interviewed more than 150 witnesses so far as they attempt to build the most comprehensive record yet of how a violent mob of Trump's supporters broke into the Capitol and temporarily halted the certification of Biden's victory.
The committee has subpoenaed almost three dozen people, including former White House staffers, Trump allies who strategised about how to overturn his defeat and people who organised the giant rally on the National Mall the morning of Jan. 6. While some, like Meadows and Bannon, have balked, others have spoken to the panel and provided documents.
Meadows, a former GOP congressman from North Carolina, is a key witness for the panel. He was Trump's top aide in the time between Trump's loss in the November election and the insurrection, and was one of several people who pressured state officials to try and overturn the results. He was also by Trump's side during much of the time, and he could provide information about what the former president was saying and doing during the attack.
“You were the president's chief of staff and have critical information regarding many elements of our inquiry,” Thompson wrote in a letter accompanying the Sept. 23 subpoena to Meadows. “It appears you were with or in the vicinity of President Trump on Jan. 6, had communications with the president and others on January 6 regarding events at the Capitol and are a witness regarding activities of that day.”
The appeals court will hear arguments Nov. 30 in Trump's separate case against the committee and the National Archives, an attempt to withhold documents from the panel. The arguments will take place before three judges nominated by Democratic presidents: Patricia Millett and Robert Wilkins, nominated by former President Barack Obama, and Ketanji Brown Jackson, an appointee of Biden.
Given the case’s magnitude, whichever side loses before the circuit court is likely to eventually appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.