The Long Road to Making Steve Bannon Testify to 1/6 Committee

The House select committee investigating the January 6 attack at the Capitol will vote Tuesday on whether to recommend contempt charges be brought against Steve Bannon as part of the ongoing attempt to get the key witness to testify.

Bannon, a former White House senior adviser and longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, has already said he would not be producing any documents for the subpoena he was issued in relation to the inquiry and did not appear for his deposition on Thursday, October 14.

Bannon's lawyers said he would defy the subpoena under directions from Trump, citing "executive privilege," which can prevent documents involving presidents from being made public.

The move prompted the House Select Committee to confirm it will take the steps needed to seek contempt charges be brought against Bannon, who they accused of hiding behind Trump's "insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke."

Committee Chairman Representative Bennie Thompson (D-MS) added in a statement: "The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt. I've notified the Select Committee that we will convene for a business meeting Tuesday [October 19] evening to vote on adopting a contempt report."

The committee will almost certainly vote to back calls for Bannon to face criminal contempt charges given it is controlled by seven Democrats, compared to just two Republicans.

The referral will then be sent for citation in the House of Representatives, which the Democrats also control and therefore have the votes to also approve.

If approved, the Department of Justice (DoJ) will be sent a recommendation to pursue criminal charges against Bannon, where he could face a maximum $100,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

However, the DoJ very rarely actually seeks prosecution for executive branch officials whom Congress has voted to hold in contempt.

The last person charged with criminal contempt of Congress was Rita Lavelle in 1983, a former Environmental Protection Agency official who refused to testify before a House subcommittee investigating her management of a $1.6 billion hazardous waste cleanup fund at the EPA.

At the time, the DoJ took eight days to announce the indictment after the House voted 413-0 to pursue contempt charges. Lavelle was found not guilty in July 1983 though she was later sentenced to jail for lying to Congress, according to the New York Times.

"Just because the Congress is willing to do this does not mean that this will result in Steve Bannon actually facing consequences for his blatant and flagrant refusal to follow the law," Elie Mystal, justice correspondent for The Nation, told MSNBC's The Scriptduring a discussion about Bannon's refusal to testify.

However, Jeffrey S. Robbins, a former federal prosecutor and partner at the law firm Saul Ewing Arnstein & Lehr, said there is an easier path for criminal charges to be brought forward against Bannon now the DoJ is under a Biden administration and a Congress controlled by the Democrats.

"It's open contempt of a subpoena without an apparent basis," Robbins told The New York Times. "It's difficult to imagine it will not be referred for prosecution."

Robbins also described Bannon's executive privilege defense as "patently bogus."

As noted by Bannon's counsel Robert Costello in the letter confirming he would not be producing documents for the subpoenas, Bannon has testified on three prior occasions when called to do so: Before the Mueller Investigation, the House Intelligence Committee, and the Senate Intelligence Committee, but only after Trump "waived his invocation of the executive privileges."

It was reported at the time that Bannon only answered questions about alleged Russian election interference before the House intelligence committee in 2018 from 25 "scripted" questions that had been pre-screened by the White House under the then-Trump administration.

steve bannon contempt
Former White House senior counselor to President Donald Trump Steve Bannon leaves the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse after he testified at the Roger Stone trial November 8, 2019 in Washington, D.C. The House select committee investigating the January 6 Capitol attack will vote next week to recommend a criminal contempt charge against Bannon after he defied a subpoena. Getty Images