Steve Bannon: Trump aide charged with contempt by US House committee

Panel member suggests president Trump and Bannon were involved in planning January 6

Steve Bannon in 2020. Reuters
Powered by automated translation

A US House committee investigating the deadly January 6 assault on the Capitol by supporters of then-president Donald Trump on Tuesday voted to hold his former aide Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress.

The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives select committee voted unanimously, 9-0, to approve a report backing contempt charges against Mr Bannon.

"Mr Bannon stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena. That's not acceptable," select committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, said before the vote.

"No one in this country, no matter how wealthy or how powerful, is above the law."

The move paves the way for the entire House to vote on whether to recommend the charges on Thursday. If the House approves the referral, the Justice Department will decide whether to pursue a criminal case.

Before leaving office in January, Mr Trump pardoned Mr Bannon of fraud charges.

Mr Trump has urged former aides subpoenaed by the panel to reject its requests, claiming the right to withhold information because of executive privilege, a legal principle that protects many White House communications.

"Mr Bannon and Mr Trump's privilege arguments do, however, appear to reveal one thing," committee member Liz Cheney said at the meeting.

"They suggest that president Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6, and this committee will get to the bottom of that."

US President Joe Biden's White House says Mr Trump has no legitimate privilege claim.

"The former president's actions represented a unique and existential threat to our democracy that can't be swept under the rug," White House spokesman Michael Gwin said.

"The constitutional protections of executive privilege should not be used to shield information that reflects a clear and apparent effort to subvert the Constitution itself."

More than 670 people have been charged with taking part in the riot, the worst attack on the US government since the War of 1812.

The select committee has issued 19 subpoenas.

"If other witnesses defy this Committee, if they fail to co-operate, we will be back in this room, with a new report, with the names of whoever else mistakenly believes they are above the law," Mr Thompson said on Tuesday evening.

In a report on Monday, the committee said Mr Bannon made statements suggesting he knew ahead of time about "extreme events" on January 6, when Congress was scheduled to certify Democrat Joe Biden as the winner of the presidential election.

Mr Bannon said on a January 5 podcast that "All hell is going to break loose tomorrow."

The next day, thousands of Trump supporters descended on the Capitol building, in an attempt to overturn his election defeat, which he falsely claimed was the result of widespread fraud.

Mr Trump filed suit on Monday, alleging the committee made an illegal, unfounded and overly broad request for his White House records, which committee leaders rejected.

Many legal experts have said his executive privilege claim is weak because the committee has a compelling need to see the requested materials.

The US Supreme Court said in 1821 that Congress has "inherent authority" to arrest and detain recalcitrant witnesses on its own, without the Justice Department's help. But it has not used that authority in nearly a century.

The select committee was created by House Democrats against the wishes of most Republicans, and two of the committee's nine members, Ms Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, are Republicans.

Courts, state election officials and members of Mr Trump's own administration have rejected his claims that Mr Biden won because of election fraud.

Reuters contributed to this report

Updated: October 20, 2021, 4:37 AM