House votes to hold former Trump aide Bannon in contempt for refusing to comply with Jan. 6 subpoena
WASHINGTON - The House voted Thursday to hold former White House chief strategist Stephen Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for his refusal to comply with a subpoena issued by the committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Thursday's 229-to-202 vote comes days after the bipartisan members of the select committee voted unanimously in favor of the resolution.
Bannon has previously argued through his attorney that he can't respond to the subpoena because of executive privilege asserted by former president Donald Trump.
The matter now goes to the Justice Department, which will decide whether to pursue the contempt referral. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor criminal offense that can result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
Asked at a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday how the Justice Department would handle such a referral, Attorney General Merrick Garland said it "will do what it always does in such circumstances - it will apply the facts and the law."
Legal experts have cast doubt on the merit of Bannon's defense of his defiance of the subpoena and say the former president's immunity from congressional subpoena extends only to his closest White House advisers - and not to private citizens like Bannon.
Trump's sweeping claims of executive privilege to shield his activities and his aides and allies from congressional scrutiny have also been questioned by constitutional experts and lawyers.
Trump filed a 26-page lawsuit on Monday to block the House committee from receiving records for its inquiry from the National Archives, arguing that the committee's document request serves no legislative purpose, that it undermines Trump's executive privilege, and that the committee has provided Trump's legal team with insufficient time to review the records requests.
At her weekly news conference Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that Bannon reportedly "had specific knowledge about the events of January 6 before they occurred and had multiple roles relevant to the attack and [was] very outspoken about it."
"The committee is seeking information from Bannon that is central to the investigative and legislative purpose to investigate the January 6 domestic terrorist attack that was intended to interfere with the peaceful constitutional transfer of power," Pelosi said.
After concluding its investigation, she added, the panel will "then see what legislation is necessary that springs from that."
Bannon was a key architect of Trump's 2016 election victory and was White House chief strategist until August 2017. Last year, he was charged alongside three others in what federal prosecutors described as a massive fundraising scam targeting the donors of a private campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Trump pardoned Bannon in late January as one of his last acts as president, and a federal judge formally dismissed the fraud case against Bannon in May.
Bannon is considered a key witness for the House select committee because he had conversations with Trump in the weeks leading up to Jan. 6 and held a meeting with Trump allies on Jan. 5 at the Willard Hotel. That day, Bannon said on his podcast that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow."
The House select committee is investigating the facts and causes of the assault that left five dead and nearly 140 officers attacked as they faced rioters armed with ax handles, bats, metal batons, wooden poles, hockey sticks and other weapons, authorities said. The riot led to Trump's impeachment on a charge of incitement of insurrection.
The panel was formed after Senate Republicans in May blocked efforts to form a bipartisan, independent commission to investigate the Jan. 6 attack by the pro-Trump mob.
The legislation passed by the House in June, with nearly all Republicans voting in opposition, allowed for the formation of a 13-member select committee. Eight of the panel's members would be chosen by Pelosi and five would be selected "after consultation with" House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.
But McCarthy pulled all of his appointees off the committee after Pelosi rejected two GOP lawmakers - Reps. Jim Jordan of Ohio and Jim Banks of Indiana - who voted against Trump's impeachment and pushed to overturn the election results certifying Joe Biden as president.
Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, a sharp Trump critic chosen by Pelosi, is one of only two Republicans remaining on the panel. Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, also a Trump critic, is the other.
"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. The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did," Cheney said during Thursday's House floor debate.
Kinzinger, too, took members of his own party to task.
"Don't let my side use the security posture as a straw man argument," he said, referring to Republicans' efforts to focus only on the Capitol's lack of preparedness rather than on the identities and motivations of those who carried out the attack. "The reality is, that's the equivalent of blaming the victim of a crime for the crime."
At a news conference earlier Thursday, McCarthy accused Democrats of using the panel to target political opponents and falsely claimed that its formation marked "the first time in the history of Congress that the minority was not able to participate."
He argued that Bannon "has the right to go to the court to see if he has executive privilege or not."
"I don't know if he does or not, but neither does the committee," McCarthy said, accusing the select committee, without evidence, of "issuing an invalid subpoena."
Other Republicans sought to play down the events of Jan. 6.
Banks argued during the House debate that Bannon was no different from others who believed that violence could take place that day. He called the riot "a permitted political rally" and asked why the select committee was seeking information about it.
"What purpose does that serve?" he asked.
Democrats reminded their colleagues that people were injured and killed during the insurrection. Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., noted that the rioters injured more than 140 police officers, "breaking their noses, breaking their necks, breaking their vertebrae, breaking their arms, breaking their legs, breaking their hearts and their spirits."
In remarks at an event Thursday morning celebrating the 10th anniversary of the dedication of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, Biden referred to the "violent, deadly insurrection on the Capitol nine months ago," describing it as an act that "was about white supremacy, in my view."
"Hate never goes away," Biden said. "In all the years I've been involved [in politics], I thought once we got through it, it would go away. But it doesn't. It only hides. It only hides until some seeming legitimate person breathes some oxygen under the rocks where they're hiding and gives it some breath."
In the wake of the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump has repeatedly defended those who violently stormed the Capitol and has falsely claimed that the 2020 election was marked by widespread voter fraud.
He did so again on Thursday ahead of the House vote, in even starker language than before.
"The insurrection took place on November 3, Election Day," Trump said in a statement. "January 6 was the Protest!"
Raskin later read the former president's statement aloud on the House floor and replied: "No, Mr. Trump, I'm sorry. That's what we call an election in America."
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The Washington Post's Devlin Barrett and Shayna Jacobs contributed to this report.
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