House Votes to Approve Criminal Referral Against Steve Bannon After He Ignores Subpoena

The House of Representatives voted to approve a criminal contempt referral against Steve Bannon on Thursday, after the close associate and ex-White House adviser to former President Donald Trump refused to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack against the U.S. Capitol.

The legislative chamber voted 229-202 to approve the criminal referral and send it to the Justice Department. Nine Republicans—Representatives Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, Liz Cheney of Wyoming, Peter Meijer of Michigan, Fred Upton of Michigan, Anthony Gonzalez of Ohio, Nancy Mace of South Carolina, Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and John Katko of New York—voted to approve the measure along with 220 Democrats.

Kinzinger, a Republican who serves on the House select committee which unanimously recommended the criminal referral for Bannon, urged fellow lawmakers to support the effort during debate before the final vote.

"Mr. Bannon's willful disregard for the select committee subpoena demonstrates his utter contempt for the American people's right to know how the attacks on January 6 came about," Kinzinger said. "No one, and I repeat no one, is above the law, and we need to hear from him."

Steve Bannon
The House of Representatives voted to approve a criminal contempt referral for former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon on October 21. Bannon exits the Manhattan Federal Court on August 20, 2020 in the Manhattan borough of New York City. Pablo Monsalve/VIEWpress via Getty Images

Earlier Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, said the decision from lawmakers would uphold the Constitution. Pelosi told reporters that members of Congress "take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. The genius of our constitution and of our founders was the separation of power—checks and balances."

She said that "this goes beyond Bannon in terms of its importance. And you would think that if they [Republicans] take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, they would vote for the system of checks and balances."

The House vote came after President Joe Biden voiced his support for the criminal referral against Bannon. "I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable," the president told CNN late last week. He asserted that he hopes the Justice Department goes after those who disregard the House selection committee's subpoenas.

Some criticized Biden for wading into the manner, raising concerns that he was applying political pressure on the Justice Department led by his appointed Attorney General Merrick Garland. But Kinzinger defended Biden weighing in publicly on the matter.

"I think it's appropriate," Kinzinger, a staunch Trump critic, told CNN's State of the Union on Sunday.

"I think the president has every right to signal. I think he has every right to make it clear where the administration stands. I mean, God knows the prior administration, every two hours, was trying to signal to the Justice Department," he said.

For his part, Garland has asserted that the Justice Department will weigh the facts and make a fair decision. "The Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances, we'll apply the facts and the law and make a decision, consistent with the principles of prosecution," Garland said Thursday during testimony before the House Judiciary Committee.

Bannon's attorney has said that his client will not comply with the House select committee's subpoena until issues of executive privilege, cited by Trump, are resolved in the courts. Trump has urged Bannon and other associates subpoenaed by the committee to claim executive privilege and refuse to comply.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican, described the subpoena against Bannon as "invalid" ahead of the House vote.

"They're issuing an invalid subpoena," McCarthy told reporters Thursday. "Issuing an invalid subpoena weakens our power, not if somebody votes against it. He has the right to go to the court and see if he has executive privilege or not. I don't know if he does or not, but neither does the committee," the House GOP leader said.

Many legal experts have suggested Bannon's case for executive privilege is weak. Although he served in the Trump administration in 2017, he had not been serving in the White House for years at the time of the January 6 attack against the U.S. Capitol. Communications with Trump or about the event of January 6 would also be viewed by most a political nature, and not related to the former president's official duties as commander in chief.

However, the Justice Department rarely successfully prosecutes criminal contempt referrals from Congress. Even if the Justice Department moves forward with charging Bannon, the legal process could take months or even longer. If a prosecution moves forward and is ultimately successful, the Trump associate could face a fine and potential jail time.

"Since at least the Reagan Administration, there has not been a successful prosecution under the criminal contempt statute," Thomas Spulak, a former House counsel, told Politico this week. "Although there may be political alignment, there are institutional considerations involving DOJ, one of which is whether Garland wants to be drawn into a continuation of the Trump Administration subpoena battles."

Bannon served as the CEO of Trump's 2016 presidential campaign and was given the role of White House chief strategist and senior counselor to the president after the former president took office in 2017. He was ousted from that role seven months later in August 2017.

Under Trump's Justice Department, Bannon was later arrested and charged with fraud related to a crowdfunding campaign he led to raise funds for a border wall to be built on the southern border between the U.S. and Mexico. Trump formally pardoned Bannon, along with a number of other associates and friends, right before he left office in January.