WASHINGTON (AP) — A House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection voted unanimously to hold former White House aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress after the longtime ally of former President Donald Trump defied a subpoena for documents and testimony.
Still defending his supporters who broke into the Capitol that day, Trump has aggressively tried to block the committee’s work by directing Bannon and others not to answer questions in the probe. Trump has also filed a lawsuit to try to prevent Congress from obtaining former White House documents.
But lawmakers have made clear they will not back down as they gather facts and testimony about the attack involving Trump’s supporters that left dozens of police officers injured, sent lawmakers running for their lives and interrupted the certification of Joe Biden’s presidential election victory.
The committee’s chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Tuesday that Bannon “stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena” and the panel will not take no for an answer.
He said that 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 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. The committee noted that Bannon, fired from his White House job in 2017, was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump ahead of the attack. And Trump has not asserted any such executive privilege claims to the panel itself, lawmakers said.
Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — one of just two Republicans on the committee, and a rare GOP critic of Trump — said Bannon and Trump's privilege arguments suggest the former president was “personally involved” in the planning and execution of the day's events.
“We will get to the bottom of that,” Cheney said.
The committee says it is pursuing Bannon’s testimony because of his reported communications with Trump ahead of the siege, his efforts to get the former president to focus on the congressional certification of the vote Jan. 6 and his comments on Jan. 5 that “all hell is going to break loose” the next day.
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 Biden White House has also rejected Bannon's claims, with Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su writing Bannon’s lawyer this week to say that “at this point we are not aware of any basis for your client’s refusal to appear for a deposition.” Biden’s judgment that executive privilege is not justified, Su wrote, “applies to your client’s deposition testimony and to any documents your client may possess.”
Asked last week if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes. But the Justice Department quickly pushed back, with a spokesman saying the department would make its own decisions.
While Bannon has said he needs a court order before complying with his subpoena, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former White House and Pentagon aide Kashyap Patel have been negotiating with the committee. The panel has also subpoenaed more than a dozen people who helped plan Trump rallies ahead of the siege, and some of them are already turning over documents and giving testimony.
Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin said all the other witnesses who were subpoenaed are “either complying or acting in good faith as opposed to just blowing us off,” as Bannon has.
The committee is also conducting voluntary closed-door interviews with other witnesses who have come forward or immediately complied with their requests.
For some of the witnesses, Raskin said, “it’s a privilege and really an opportunity for them to begin to make amends, if they were involved in these events." Some of them “feel terrible about the role they played," he said.
Still, there could be more contempt votes to come.
“I won’t go into details in terms of the back and forth, but I’ll just say our patience is not infinite,” said Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the panel's other Republican, about some of the witness negotiations.
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.
Associated Press writers Jill Colvin, Colleen Long, Zeke Miller, Nomaan Merchant and Eric Tucker contributed to this report.