MARY CLARE JALONICK, MICHAEL BALSAMO and EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS / Associated Press
Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, was charged on Friday with two criminal disregard for Congress after defying a House subpoena investigating the January 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol.
The Justice Department said 67-year-old Bannon was charged on one point for refusing to appear to testify last month and on another for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena . He is expected to surrender to authorities on Monday and appear in court that afternoon, an AP law enforcement official said. The person was granted anonymity to discuss the case.
The indictment came when a second witness, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, defied his own subpoena on Friday and Trump escalated his litigation to withhold documents and testimony about the uprising. Panel chairman, Jan. 6, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson said he would recommend disregard charges for Meadows next week.
If the House of Representatives votes to despise Meadows, that recommendation could also be sent to the Department of Justice for possible indictment.
“Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others down this path will not prevail when it comes to stopping the Special Committee’s efforts to get answers for the American people around January 6th, legislative recommendations on protection to our democracy and to help ensure that there will never be something like that day to happen again, “Democrat Thompson and Vice-Chairwoman of the panel, Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said in a statement.
The indictment is a victory for House Democrats, who resisted testimony and subpoenas during his presidency dozens of Trump officials. The charges support the power of Congress to investigate the executive branch and signal possible consequences for those who refuse to cooperate.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Bannon’s indictment reflected the Department of Justice’s “unwavering commitment” to ensuring that the department upheld the rule of law. Each count includes a minimum of 30 days in prison and up to a year behind bars.
The indictment alleges that Bannon did not appear before the committee or provide the necessary documents. It is also said that he has not communicated in any way with the committee since he received the subpoena on September 24th until October 7th, when his attorney mailed a letter seven hours after the documents were due.
Bannon, who worked in the White House early in the Trump administration and currently hosts the conspiracy-focused podcast War Room, is a private individual who “refused to testify as a subpoena required.” it says in the indictment.
Bannon’s attorney did not immediately respond to a message asking for comment. When Bannon refused to appear to testify in October, his attorney said the former Trump adviser had been instructed by an attorney for Trump, citing the executive’s privilege not to answer questions.
Officials in both Democratic and Republican governments have been despised by Congress, but criminal charges of contempt are extremely rare. The most recent notable examples of criminal penalties for failing to testify before Congress date back to the 1970s, including the conviction of President Richard Nixon’s adviser G. Gordon Liddy for misdemeanor for refusing to answer questions about his role in the Watergate scandal.
This is not the first time Bannon has been in legal danger. In August last year, he was pulled by a luxury yacht and arrested for ripping off donors trying to fund a southern border wall, along with three employees. Trump later pardoned Bannon in the final hours of his presidency.
Meadows defied his subpoena on Friday after weeks of discussions with the committee. His attorney said Meadows had a “sharp legal battle” with the panel as Trump claimed executive privilege over his testimony, as he had with Bannon.
The former Republican Congressman’s refusal to abide by it comes amid litigation between the committee and Trump as the former president has claimed the privilege of documents and interviews lawmakers demand. The White House said in a letter Thursday that President Joe Biden would forego any privileges that would prevent Meadows from working with the committee and urged his attorney to say Meadows would not abide by them.
“Legal disputes are adequately resolved by the courts,” said attorney George Terwilliger. “It would be irresponsible of Mr. Meadows to resolve this dispute prematurely by voluntarily foregoing privileges that are at the heart of these legal issues.”
As the incumbent president, Biden has so far dispensed with most of Trump’s claims of document privilege. US District Judge Tanya Chutkan supported Biden’s position, ruling this week in a ruling that “presidents are not kings and the plaintiff is not president.”
The panel’s procedures and attempts to gather information were delayed when Trump appealed Chutkan’s rulings. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the publication of some of the White House filings the panel is seeking, giving that court time to consider Trump’s arguments.
Still, the House of Representatives body continues its work, and lawmakers have already interviewed 150+ witnesses to create the most comprehensive record yet of how a violent crowd of Trump’s supporters broke into the Capitol and certified Biden’s victory.
The committee has summoned nearly three dozen people, including former White House employees, Trump allies who devised strategies to undo his defeat, and people who organized the huge rally in the National Mall on the morning of Jan. 6. While some, like Meadows and Bannon, have resisted, others have spoken to the panel and provided papers.
Like Bannon, Meadows is a key witness for the panel. He was Trump’s key adviser in the period between Trump’s loss in the November election and the uprising, and one of several people who pressured state officials to overturn the results. He was also by Trump’s side most of the time and was able to provide information on what the former president said and did during the attack.
“You were the president’s chief of staff and you have critical information on many elements of our investigation,” Thompson wrote in a letter accompanying the September 23 subpoena to Meadows. “It appears that you were with or near President Trump on January 6, communicated with the President and others about events at the Capitol on January 6, and witnessed the day’s activities.”
Emily Wagster Pettus reported from Mississippi. AP writers Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Zeke Miller, Farnoush Amiri, and Jill Colvin all contributed.