On Thursday, the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol announced it’s moving to hold former Trump White House aide Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for defying a subpoena.
“Mr. Bannon has declined to cooperate with the Select Committee and is instead hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke,” committee Chair Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in a statement. “The Select Committee will use every tool at its disposal to get the information it seeks, and witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed.”
Donald Trump, who you’ll remember is no longer the president, has tried to claim executive privilege over requested documents. The Biden White House, which holds actual power to claim said privilege, announced last month it would not oblige.
To those — like me — wanting facts about the antidemocratic attempt to keep Trump in office past his term, it’s promising to hear about any movement toward that end. And it’s certainly possible former Trump aides without the resources Bannon has won’t be as equipped to defy a subpoena for as long as he intends. However, despite this being a necessary step, it’s unclear if the contempt of Congress threat will actually jar any facts loose from Bannon.
Seeking a conviction for criminal contempt is an elaborate process that can potentially be drawn out for months or years due to appeals. The next steps are for the select committee to adopt the contempt report next week, refer it to the House for a vote and, if it passes, refer it to the acting U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Channing Phillips. And who has that time?
All of this reveals how the fight to protect voting rights and the fight to pry loose details about the Jan. 6 attack are inseparable. The constitution of Congress factors heavily in whether Trump or any of his aides will be held accountable for any role they may have played in the attack. The threat of criminal contempt is only dangerous to Bannon if there are people around who will enforce it.
As we witness Republicans taking every unscrupulous measure to install themselves in office against a majority of Americans’ will, Bannon’s possible contempt of Congress charge is a reminder of all that’s at stake. The Jan. 6 investigation is likely to be a prolonged fight. And Democrats will need to retain power if they want to apply real pressure on former aides like Bannon.
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