Steve Bannon indicted by federal grand jury, what is contempt of congress

Bannon Faces Contempt Charges in Connection with the House's Capitol Riot Inquiry.

Stephen K. Bannon, a former top Trump aide, had previously refused to comply with subpoenas issued by the House committee probing the Jan. 6 attack on Congress.

Stephen K. Bannon, a former top adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, was indicted on Friday by a federal grand jury on two counts of contempt of Congress for his refusal to cooperate with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol incident.

Mr. Bannon, 67, had previously refused to comply with a committee subpoena seeking testimony and records from him. Mr. Bannon was later found in criminal contempt of Congress by the House.

After finding Mr. Bannon in contempt, the House forwarded the case to the United States attorney's office in Washington for a determination on whether to prosecute him.

Mr. Trump has urged former aides and advisers to invoke immunity and withhold records that may be protected by presidential privilege.

Mr. Bannon was expected to surrender to authorities on Monday and make his first appearance in Federal District Court in Washington later that day, according to a Justice Department spokesman.

Steve Bannon indicted by federal grand jury, what is contempt of congress
Stephen K. Bannon declined last month to comply with a House select committee's request for evidence on the Jan. 6 Capitol incident.

Mr. Bannon's counsel did not reply quickly to a request for comment.

The politically and legally complicated case was widely viewed as a litmus test for whether the Justice Department would take an aggressive stance against one of Mr. Trump's closest allies as the House attempts to piece together the former president's and his aides' and advisers' actions leading up to and during the Capitol attack.

At a time of extreme political polarization, the Biden Justice Department suddenly finds itself pursuing a former top adviser to another party's president in connection with an unusual attack by Mr. Trump's supporters on a fundamental tenet of democracy: peaceful transfer of power.

Mr. Bannon's indictment also raises concerns about possible criminal liability for Mark Meadows, Mr. Trump's former chief of staff.

Prior to the Justice Department's announcement of Mr. Bannon's charge, Mr. Meadows, a former North Carolina House member, missed a Friday morning deadline for responding to a House committee's request for information.

While Mr. Meadows served in the White House during the committee's investigation period, Mr. Bannon left in 2017 and became a private citizen, supporting Mr. Trump's efforts to retain power following Joseph R. Biden Jr.'s victory in the 2020 election. Mr. Bannon's absence from the White House has complicated the issue of whether he may assert executive privilege.

Following the House referral in Mr. Bannon's case, F.B.I. agents in the Washington field office investigated. Career prosecutors in the public integrity unit of the United States Attorney's Office in Washington determined that charging Mr. Bannon with two counts of contempt would be appropriate, and a person familiar with the deliberations said they had the full support of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

"Since my first day in office, I have pledged to Justice Department employees that we would demonstrate to the American people through word and deed that the department upholds the rule of law, adheres to the facts and the law, and pursues equal justice under the law," Mr. Garland said in a statement.

"Today's charges demonstrate the department's unwavering adherence to these ideals," he continued.

One contempt charge stems from Mr. Bannon's unwillingness to appear for a deposition, while the other stems from his failure to produce papers to the committee.

Mr. Bannon and many others with ties to the Trump White House were subpoenaed in September, and the committee has subsequently issued scores more subpoenas to other former president's friends.

The Democratic-controlled committee stated that it had grounds to believe Mr. Bannon, Mr. Trump's former senior strategist and counselor, may assist investigators in better understanding the Jan. 6 attack intended to prevent President Biden's victory from being certified.

The committee repeatedly noted comments Mr. Bannon made on his radio broadcast on Jan. 5 — when he vowed "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow" — as proof that "he had some foreknowledge about dramatic events that would occur the next day."

Additionally, investigators have referred to a Dec. 30 conversation between Mr. Bannon and Mr. Trump in which he pushed him to focus his efforts on Jan. 6. Mr. Bannon was also there at a meeting at Washington's Willard Hotel the day before the violence, where plans were discussed to attempt to change the election results the next day, the committee said.

While many of those served with subpoenas have attempted to cooperate with the committee to some extent, Mr. Bannon claimed that his communications with Mr. Trump were protected by executive privilege, despite the fact that he had not worked in the White House in years at the time of the Jan. 6 disturbance.

Mr. Bannon's relationship with Mr. Trump was difficult at times following his departure from the White House, but he remained a strong supporter and external booster of Mr. Trump's brand of politics.

Mr. Bannon was indicted and jailed last year in Manhattan by federal authorities on allegations linked to money generated to promote the construction of Mr. Trump's long-desired border wall. However, before going to trial, Mr. Trump pardoned him hours before the former president left office in January.

Each count of contempt of Congress has a mandatory minimum of 30 days in jail and a maximum of one year, as well as a $100 to $1,000 fine.

Mr. Bannon's charges come as the committee considers criminal contempt referrals against two other Trump allies who have refused to comply with the committee's subpoenas: Mr. Meadows and Jeffrey Clark, a Justice Department official who assisted Mr. Trump in his effort to overturn the 2020 election results.

"Steve Bannon's indictment should send a clear message to anyone who believes they can ignore the select committee or attempt to obstruct our investigation: No one is above the law," the panel's leaders, Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, and Representative Liz Cheney, a Wyoming Republican, said in a statement. "We will not hesitate to use all available methods to obtain the information we require."

They had previously issued another harsh statement in response to Mr. Meadows' failure to appear for a scheduled deposition. Mr. Meadows's attorney, George J. Terwilliger III, testified before the committee that his client felt "obligated" to follow Mr. Trump's instructions to defy the committee, invoking presidential privilege.

"Mr. Meadows's actions today — choosing to disobey the law — will compel the select committee to pursue contempt or other enforcement actions to enforce the subpoena," Mr. Thompson and Ms. Cheney stated.

They claimed Mr. Meadows refused to answer even basic questions, such whether he communicated on Jan. 6 using a private cellphone and the location of his text messages from that day.

The committee observed that over 150 witnesses participated with the investigation, offering "important details" to the panel.

Representative Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat and committee member, said the accusations demonstrated how the Justice Department could behave differently if its leadership was no longer devoted to Mr. Trump.

"It's wonderful to have a functioning Department of Justice," Mr. Raskin added. "I hope that other Trump associates understand that they are no longer above the law in the United States."

The Justice Department's decision to charge Mr. Bannon was not as straightforward as Mr. Trump's critics assert.

The department seldom charges government personnel with contempt for failing to cooperate with subpoenas. Rita M. Lavelle, a former federal environmental administrator under President Ronald Reagan, was acquitted of criminal contempt of Congress in 1983 for failing to appear at a congressional subcommittee hearing. She was later convicted of lying to Congress and sentenced to prison.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross

However, legal opinions issued by the Department of Justice in 1984 and 2008 have since counseled against prosecuting employees who comply with formal assertions of presidential privilege.

And the agency took no retaliatory action when Corey Lewandowski, a former Trump campaign staffer, and Kris W. Kobach, a former Kansas secretary of state, declined to cooperate with a congressional investigation in 2019 citing executive privilege. Both men were ordinary citizens.

However, this departure from tradition occurred under extraordinary circumstances: an investigation into whether members of the former president's closest circle were aware of an attack on Congress intended to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

Mr. Garland and the Justice Department were placed in the perilous position of prosecuting a top advisor to Mr. Trump, who remains the de facto Republican Party leader. Since Watergate, the DOJ has frequently declined to prosecute former executive branch officials on criminal charges.

Throughout the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, witnesses eventually complied with a subpoena issued by a committee when Congress proceeded to find them in criminal contempt.

However, in recent years, the Justice Department has failed to enforce congressional contempt referrals when a sitting president invoked executive privilege to prevent one of his employees from testifying.

In 2015, President Barack Obama's Justice Department announced that it would not pursue criminal contempt charges against Lois Lerner, a former Internal Revenue Service official; and in 2019, Mr. Trump's Justice Department made a similar announcement, rebuffing Congress on behalf of Attorney General William P. Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.

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