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Why Congress' contempt proceedings against Steve Bannon matter

As contempt proceedings against Steve Bannon move forward, the Jan. 6 committee is generating new and previously unreported details about the attack.


There can be no doubt that Steve Bannon has important insights to share about the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. After all, he spoke publicly before the insurrectionist riot about what was going to happen.

With this in mind, it hardly came as a surprise when the bipartisan House committee investigating the attack issued subpoenas a few weeks ago, seeking information from key Trump insiders — and as regular readers know, Bannon was at the top of the list.

The former White House strategist, following Donald Trump's instructions not to cooperate, declined to comply with the subpoena. That, in and of itself, was a striking step: When the 9/11 attacks were scrutinized, it would've been considered extraordinary if a prominent presidential adviser simply refused to honor a subpoena and instead chose to keep relevant information hidden.

As NBC News reported overnight, the bipartisan select committee investigating the Capitol attack is escalating matters.

The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol voted Tuesday to advance a measure to refer former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal charges of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with its investigation. The committee voted 9-0.

I've confirmed with Capitol Hill sources that the House Rules Committee will take up the matter today, followed by a vote in the full House tomorrow. If the measure advances — given the Democratic majority, that's a safe bet — the matter would be referred to a U.S. attorney's office for possible prosecution.

If these circumstances seem unusual, it's not your imagination. As Rachel noted on last night's show, the last time the Justice Department pursued a criminal case like this one was nearly four decades ago, when a Reagan administration official refused to testify to Congress about EPA superfund sites. When the House voted that year on contempt of Congress, the vote was 413 to zero.

Why would members of both parties link arms on this? Because congressional subpoenas are not supposed to be optional. They are not casual invitations. The more people feel they can ignore these legal commands from federal lawmakers, the more difficult it is for Congress to do its job — no matter which party is in charge.

That said, Republican politics has changed dramatically since 1983, and it's difficult to imagine a unanimous vote against Bannon tomorrow. Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger, a member of the select committee, was asked last night whether he expects other GOP members to agree to hold Bannon in contempt. "Should there be other Republicans? Yes," the Illinois congressman said. "Are there going to be? I don't know."

In the meantime, the committee's work continues. Rachel spoke last night with the panel's Democratic chairman, Mississippi's Bennie Thompson, who confirmed that the investigation has already generated new and previously unreported details about the attack.

"I assure you, at the end of the day," Thompson concluded, "the public will be shocked to know how close we came to losing our democracy if those insurrectionists had succeeded."