The House will vote Thursday whether to hold Steve Bannon (a longtime ally, and aide to ex-President Donald Trump) in contempt of Congress because he defied a subpoena issued by the committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol Insurrection.
The panel has pledged to act swiftly and forcefully against anyone refusing to cooperate. The House’s Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson (Democrat), will be leading the debate with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney from Wyoming, one of the two Republicans on this panel.
However, the majority of House Republicans will vote against the contempt measure despite the possible consequences for Congress if witnesses ignore its demands.
The fractious political situation surrounding Bannon’s subpoena and the investigation by the committee in general is a clear example of the tensions that still grip Congress nine years after the attack on Capitol Hill.
Democrats pledge to investigate the assault by Trump supporters that saw hundreds of them hurling themselves past police officers, injuring dozens of officers, and disrupting the election count which certify President Joe Biden’s win.
The Jan. 6 panel is composed of only two Republicans: Adam Kinzinger, a Illinois Rep., and Cheney. Both Cheney and Kinzinger have publicly criticized Trump for his role in inciting the insurrection. However, other Republicans have mostly shunned Trump’s lies about massive fraud in the election. Trump’s claims were denied by the election officials, courts throughout the country, and his own attorney general.
If the House votes to declare Bannon in contempt of court, the matter will be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington. The matter would then be decided by the prosecutors at that office if it is presented to a grand jury for criminal charges.
Even if the Justice Department decides to prosecute, it could take many years for the case to be resolved — possibly pushing beyond the 2022 election when Republicans might win control of Congress and end the investigation.
In a Tuesday night unanimous vote, the Jan. 6 panel recommended that Bannon be charged with contempt. After he refused to comply with the panel’s subpoena and cited a letter from Trump’s lawyer that told him not answer questions, Bannon was voted out of the panel. The committee pointed out that Bannon didn’t work at the White House during the insurrection. They also noted that he spoke with Trump on his podcast and predicted unrest.
At a House Rules Committee hearing, Wednesday’s simmering anger over the insurrection and the Bannon subpoena erupted. This hearing was held to establish the parameters for Thursday’s debate. Under intense questioning by Jamie Raskin (Maryland Rep.), Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who appeared to defend Trump but oppose the Bannon contempt attempt, stated that he accepts that Biden is president, but that he would not claim that Biden won.
Raskin stated, “I’m sorry, that won’t work in Steve Bannon’s podcast. But that’s not going be working in the Rules Committee of Congress, Mr. Gaetz.
During early debate on Thursday, the House floor, Republicans rejected the investigation and stated that Congress should deal with more pressing issues.
Rep. Michelle Fischbach (R-Minn.), spoke out against the contempt vote.
Despite Democratic demands, there is still uncertainty as to whether or not the Justice Department will pursue criminal prosecutions. This decision will affect not only the effectiveness and power of Congress to call witnesses or demand information, but also the effectiveness of the House investigation.
Although the department is not known for its willingness to prosecute witnesses found in contempt with Congress, these circumstances are extraordinary as lawmakers investigate the worst attack against the U.S. Capitol since two centuries.
During Thursday’s House hearing, Attorney General Merrick Garland did not give any hint.
“If the House of Representatives votes to refer a contempt case, the Department of Justice would do as it does in such situations. He said that the Department of Justice would apply the facts and law to make a decision in accordance with the principles and prosecution.
The Democrats want Justice to hear the case and argue that democracy is at stake.
Raskin stated that “the stakes are immense” in an interview with The Associated Press.
Another route could be taken by the House. The House could also authorize a civil lawsuit that would take many years, but Bannon and all other witnesses will have to defend themselves in court.
Congress also has the option to try to indict defiant witnesses, which is a rare, if not impossible, possibility. This process is known as “inherent contempt” and was used in the country’s early years, but it hasn’t been used since almost a century.