A federal grand jury indicted Steve Bannon Saturday for allegedly refusing to comply with Congressional subpoenas to provide documents and testify.
The 67-year-old Bannon had been an advisor to former President Donald Trump. The House of Representatives’ Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot noted Bannon promoted the Jan. 6 protest on his podcast and predicted the day before, “[A]ll hell is going to break loose.”
The indictment says Bannon failed to communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on Sept. 24 until Oct. 7, when his lawyer sent a letter seven hours after the documents were due.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said he promised Justice Department employees he would work with them to demonstrate the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and pursues equal justice under the law.
“Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles,” Garland said.
Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) took a different view. In a three-part Twitter post, she said, “The Democrat Communist party & the America-Last Media are guilty of crimes against the American people.” Greene argued Bannon is being persecuted because “Commies always go after the strongest first.”
After Bannon failed to appear for a deposition in October, his attorney said Bannon had been directed by a Trump lawyer not to answer questions based on a claim of executive privilege, according to the Associated Press. That story added that Bannon’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment Friday.
Legal experts said that claim probably lacked merit because Bannon is a private citizen who has not worked for Trump in years. Perhaps more importantly, President Joe Biden has rejected Trump’s assertion of executive privilege to block the Select Committee’s access to documents and testimony from him.
“Steve Bannon’s indictment should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law,” said Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) in a statement. “We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need.”
University of Kentucky Law Professor Jonathan Shaub notes the Justice Department has frequently declined to prosecute government officials for contempt after a presidential assertion of executive privilege. The question may hinge on how courts view assertion by a former president.
Despite Garland’s claim that prosecutions would be based on facts and the law, rather than politics, Biden told reporters that people who defied the Jan. 6 committee should face prosecution.
It did not take long before Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said the department would “make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions. … Period. Full stop.”
Is that enough to put the toothpaste back in the tube? Trump critics frequently chastised him for comments he made about legal matters, saying his comments prejudiced potential jurors. For example, Trump weighed in on a controversial soldier during a campaign rally.
Former soldier Bowe Bergdahl was captured and held captive by the Taliban in 2009, after walking away from his unit in Afghanistan. The Obama Administration released five Guantanamo Bay detainees in exchange for the Taliban releasing Bergdahl. Trump blew a gasket.
“So we get Bergdahl, a traitor, and they get five of the people that they most wanted anywhere in the world, five killers that are right now back on the battlefield, doing a job,” said Donald Trump in a campaign speech. “That’s the kind of deals we make.”
Bergdahl’s lawyers filed a 2016 motion to dismiss his charges because they argued Trump’s comments prevented Bergdahl from getting a fair trial.
Bannon is the first person to be indicted on criminal contempt of Congress charges since 1983. He could become the first person to be found guilty of those charges since G. Gordon Liddy, in 1974.
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