Former Trump Aides Could Face Contempt Charges as Jan 6 Committee Deadline Passes

The House Select Committee investigating the events of January 6 could bring charges of contempt against four former aides to former President Donald Trump if they refuse to cooperate with the probe.

In a letter, a lawyer for Trump instructed the four men—former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, Defense Department official Kash Patel, White House adviser Steve Bannon and Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Dan Scavino—to ignore subpoenas from the committee.

The men had until midnight on Thursday to hand over documents relating to January 6 to the committee, after being subpoenaed in September. It remains unclear if they have cooperated with the committee now that the deadline has passed.

The select committee has also ordered the former aides to sit for interviews with investigators next week.

Patel issued a statement to The Washington Post on Thursday before the deadline, pointing to his website where he is seeking to raise $250,000 "to fund a top-notch legal team."

"I will continue to tell the American people the truth about January 6, and I am putting our country and freedoms first through my Fight with Kash initiative," he told the newspaper.

The committee had been unable to physically locate Scavino in order to serve him with a subpoena as of Thursday.

It's not entirely clear what steps the select committee will take if the four former aides refuse to cooperate, but Democratic Representative Jamie Raskin, who sits on the committee, suggested on Thursday that they could face contempt charges.

"I believe this is a matter of the utmost seriousness and we need to consider the full panoply of enforcement sanctions available to us, and that means criminal contempt citations, civil contempt citations and the use of Congress's own inherent contempt powers," Raskin said.

Raskin said the decision would ultimately fall to the committee's chair, Democratic Representative Bennie Thompson, who has previously said he will seek to enforce subpoenas in the courts if necessary.

Thompson was asked about former Trump officials refusing subpoenas in an interview with The Guardian newspaper on July 21 and replied: "We will pursue it in court."

If Congress votes to hold someone in contempt, they could then make a referral to the executive branch for criminal prosecution. A person convicted could be sentenced to a month or longer in prison. Congress could also ask the federal courts to enforce the subpoena, but both processes would take time. Contempt is designed to coerce the witness into cooperating.

Raskin threatened sanctions against those refusing to cooperate with the committee during an appearance on MSNBC on October 2, saying the subpoenas were "legally mandatory."

"If you get one of these subpoenas, that is not an optional thing," he said, adding that Congress "can coerce your cooperation through criminal contempt or civil contempt or what's called the powers of Congress where we can call people before Congress and fine them and use our own sanctions."

In the letter to the former aides, first reported by Politico, a lawyer for Trump said the committee was seeking documents covered by executive privilege and wrote: "President Trump is prepared to defend these fundamental privileges in court."

Executive privilege is the concept that presidents can have conversations with advisers without worrying that those conversations will later become public. It is vaguely defined but has been invoked in the past.

However, Raskin told The Washington Post on September 23 that "there's no such thing as a former president's executive privilege. That's extremely dilute and not really relevant," the Democrat said.

Nonetheless, questions of executive privilege with regard to documents and testimony are now at the forefront of the committee's investigation and Trump communications director Taylor Budowich cited the concept in a statement on Thursday.

"Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of President Trump and his administration, but also on behalf of the Office of the President of the United States and the future of our nation. The Fake News continues to take the Democrats' bait, who are trying desperately to distract the country with this bogus process," Budowich said.

Bennie Thompson Attends the House Select Committee
Committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS) listens during a hearing of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021 at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC. The committee may choose to bring contempt charges if former Trump aides refuse to cooperate. Brendan Smialowski-Pool/Getty Images