A former aide to Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, has been indicted on two counts of contempt of Congress for his failure to cooperate with the congressional investigation into the events of Jan. 6.
The Jan. 6 congressional committee had subpoenaed records of communications in the lead-up to the riot. Bannon claimed the documents were covered under executive privilege and refused to give them to the committee.
Bannon also failed to appear to give testimony before the committee.
The two counts of contempt of Congress carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail for each count as well as a $1,000 fine per count.
After the referral from the House in Mr. Bannon’s case, F.B.I. agents in the Washington field office investigated the matter. Career prosecutors in the public integrity unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington determined that it would be appropriate to charge Mr. Bannon with two counts of contempt, and a person familiar with the deliberations said they received the full support of Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.
“Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law, and pursues equal justice under the law,” Mr. Garland said in a statement.
“Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles,” he added.
Another Trump aide, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, is heading for the same fate. He has refused to appear before the committee and will also likely be indicted for contempt. Meadows failed to appear for a deposition, and his lawyer says he will also claim his communications with the former president are protected by executive privilege.
Related: Jan. 6 Probe: House Committee Votes to Hold Former Trump Confidant Steve Bannon in Contempt
The Wall Street Journal points out that Bannon had other options than simply thumbing his nose at Congress.
The fact that this is a Democratic Justice Department enforcing a contempt citation by a Democratic Congress doesn’t overrule the point. Mr. Bannon has no legal standing to dodge a lawful subpoena, and this one is certainly within Congress’s authority. The criminal contempt vote was 229-202, with nine Republicans joining the Democrats.
Mr. Bannon could decline to answer questions by invoking his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself. But he can’t refuse to appear or refuse to turn over subpoenaed documents, which is the second count of the indictment.
The Justice Department doesn’t always have to follow the recommendations of Congress to indict someone for contempt. During the Obama administration, Attorney General Eric Holder refused to indict IRS employee Lois Lerner, whose bias against conservative non-profit groups was never punished.
The idea of this Congress holding anyone in contempt when a great many individual Americans feel exactly that way about Congress is beside the point. We either live by the rule of law or we don’t. The congressional subpoena defied by Mr. Bannon was legally written and executed. There is no controversy over whether Congress had the constitutional right to issue the subpoena or hold Bannon in contempt.
But this isn’t an issue of subpoena power by the legislative branch. This is a good old-fashioned constitutional dust-up over executive privilege and how far it extends after a president leaves office.
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