The Jan. 6 House select committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to refer former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution in response to his refusal to cooperate with its investigation, paving the way for a full House vote on the matter, which is planned for Thursday.
“Mr. Bannon stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena,” said committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. “He’s chosen the path toward criminal contempt by taking this position.
“When you think about what we’re investigating — a violent attack on the seat of our democracy perpetrated by fellow citizens, on our Constitution — an attempt to stop the certification of an election. It’s shocking to me that anyone would not do everything in their power to assist our investigation,” Thompson said.
Thompson added that the committee’s rapid move to force the issue with subpoenas sent last month, followed up by a prompt criminal referral, should be a warning to anyone else who might consider noncooperation. “I want other witnesses to understand something very plainly: If you’re thinking of following the path Mr. Bannon has gone down, you’re on notice that this is what you’ll face,” he said.
But Thompson said that so far, Bannon is the only person to refuse to work with the committee. “I want to make it clear just how isolated Mr. Bannon is,” he said. “We have reached out to dozens of witnesses. We are taking in thousands of pages of records. We are conducting interviews on a steady basis.”
So far, two other top officials close to former President Donald Trump — former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former Pentagon official Kash Patel — have cooperated with the panel and have not used Trump’s claims of executive privilege as a shield.
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the committee’s leading Republican and its vice chair, focused her statement on picking apart the weaknesses in Bannon’s claim that Trump’s assertion of executive privilege — spelled out formally in a lawsuit filed Monday — precludes him from providing testimony or documents related to the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“The plain fact here is that Mr. Bannon has no legal right to ignore the committee’s lawful subpoena,” Cheney said.
As legal expert Jonathan David Shaub, a former Justice Department attorney, has told Yahoo News, executive privilege covers only matters related to a president’s “official duties.” Bannon’s “testimony about the events leading up to Jan. 6 almost certainly has no relation to Trump’s official duties as president and relates solely to actions Trump was taking in his personal and political capacity, which is legally distinct,” Shaub told Yahoo News. “By definition, executive privilege does not protect conversations about undermining the Constitution.”
Cheney added that Trump’s lawsuit and claims of privilege appear to incriminate the former president, in her view. “Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of Jan. 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that,” she said.
Cheney also said that “based on the committee’s investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for Jan. 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans.”
“On Jan. 6th, a mob breached the security perimeter of this Capitol, assaulted and injured more than 140 police officers, engaged in hand-to-hand violence over an extended period, and invaded and occupied the Capitol building, all in an effort to halt the lawful counting of electoral votes and reverse the results of the 2020 election,” Cheney said. “The day before this all occurred — on Jan. 5th — Mr. Bannon publicly professed knowledge that ‘all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.’ He forecast that the day would be ‘extraordinarily different’ than what most Americans expected.”
The committee’s ability to learn the truth about Jan. 6 is a test of whether the rule of law still applies in America, Thompson said.
“If there’s no accountability for these abuses — if there are different sets of rules for different types of people — then our democracy is in serious trouble,” he said.
At the close of her opening statement, Cheney made an appeal to her Republican colleagues in Congress, who have mostly failed to speak out against Trump’s continued lies about the 2020 election.
“Let me add one further thought, principally for my Republican colleagues. We all agree that America is the greatest nation on the face of God’s earth. Truth, justice and our Constitution have made America great,” Cheney said. “Almost every one of my colleagues knows in your hearts that what happened on Jan. 6th was profoundly wrong. You all know that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud sufficient to have changed the results of the election. You all know that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know these claims are false. Yet former President Trump repeats them almost daily, and he has now urged Republicans not to vote in 2022 and 2024,” Cheney said. “This is a prescription for national self-destruction.”
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