WASHINGTON (AP) — Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald TrumpAfter he refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Committee investigating Jan. 6th insurrection at U.S. Capitol, he was charged Friday with criminal contempt.
The Justice Department said Bannon, 67, was indicted on one count for refusing to appear for a deposition last month and the other for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. According to a law enforcement officer, he is likely to surrender to the authorities Monday. He will then appear in court on Tuesday afternoon. To discuss the matter, the person has been granted anonymity.
The indictment comes after a parade of Trump administration officials — including Bannon — have defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence, including during Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. The President Barack Obama’s administration also declined to charge two of its officials who defied congressional demands.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Bannon’s indictment reflects the Justice Department’s “steadfast commitment” to the rule of law. Each charge carries at most 30 days imprisonment and can even go as far as one year in prison.
Trump escalated his legal fights to keep documents and testimonies about the rebellion secret.
Meadows would be held in contempt if the House votes. The Justice Department could also send the recommendation for an indictment.
While Congress has held officials in both Democratic or Republican administrations in contempt, criminal charges for contempt are rare. The most recent notable examples of criminal penalties for not testifying before Congress date to the 1970s, including when President Richard Nixon’s aide G. Gordon Liddy was convicted of misdemeanor charges for refusing to answer questions about his role in the Watergate scandal.
Democrats who voted to hold Bannon in contempt praised the Justice Department’s decision, saying the charges reinforce the authority of Congress to investigate the executive branch and signal potential consequences for those who refuse to cooperate.
“The days of defying subpoenas with impunity are over,” tweeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who sits on the Jan. 6 panel and also led Trump’s first impeachment inquiry. “We will expose those responsible for Jan 6. No one is above the law.”
Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson (chair of the Jan. 6-panel) told reporters on Friday at an event in Mississippi, that he will be recommending contempt charges against Meadows.
Thompson and the vice chairwoman of the panel, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said in a statement: “Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail in stopping the Select Committee’s effort getting answers for the American people about January 6th, making legislative recommendations to help protect our democracy, and helping ensure nothing like that day ever happens again.”
Meadows and Bannon, who were both in close contact with Trump at the time of insurrection, are important witnesses to the panel.
Meadows was Trump’s top aide at the end of his presidency and was one of several people who pressured state officials to try and overturn the results. Bannon promoted Jan. 6 protests via his podcast, and forecast that unrest would ensue. On Jan. 5, he predicted that “all hell is going to break loose.”
The indictment says Bannon didn’t communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on Sept. 24 until Oct. 7 when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due.
Bannon, who worked at the White House at the beginning of the Trump administration and currently serves as host of the conspiracy-minded “War Room” podcast, is a private citizen who “refused to appear to give testimony as required by a subpoena,” the indictment says.
In October, Bannon did not appear at his deposition. His lawyer claimed that a Trump attorney had directed him to do so. He cited executive privilege to deny answering questions. A message seeking comment was not returned by the lawyer on Friday.
It is not the first legal problem that Trump’s longtime ally faces. Bannon, along with three of his associates was arrested last August after he was taken from his luxury yacht. He is accused of stealing money to pay for a wall at the southern border. Trump granted pardons to Bannon during his final hours as president.
After weeks of negotiations with the committee, Meadows, an ex-congressionman from North Carolina refused to submit to his subpoena. His lawyer said that Meadows has a “sharp legal dispute” with the panel as Trump has claimed executive privilege over the former chief of staff’s testimony, as he had with Bannon’s.
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 Meadows’ lawyer to say he 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 and interviews, citing the interest of the public in knowing what happened on Jan. 6. Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to stop the release of documents, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has repeatedly 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 has appealed Chutkan’s rulings. The panel met 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 members have already interviewed more than 150 witnesses in an attempt to build a comprehensive record 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 peopleEx-White House staffers, Trump aides, and others who planned how to reverse his loss. Also, people organized a massive rally in front of the White House the morning before Jan. 6. Although Meadows and Bannon have resisted, some others, including Meadows, provided documentation to the panel.
Emily Wagster Pettus was reporting from Mississippi. Jill Colvin and Nomaan merchant contributed to the reporting.