January 6 committee seeks to hold Steve Bannon in contempt as ex-Trump aide refuses subpoena

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The House Select Committee investigating the Capitol attack will begin criminal contempt proceedings against Steve Bannon, citing the former Trump strategist's refusal to cooperate with the panel's subpoena requests at the direction of the former president.

"Mr. Bannon has declined to cooperate with the Select Committee and is instead hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke," committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said Thursday. "We reject his position entirely ... so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt."

Trump's lawyers have directed witnesses not to cooperate with congressional investigators, invoking executive privilege. But the Biden administration has rejected the former president's attempt to withhold documents from the investigating panel.

In this Aug. 20, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, speaks with reporters in New York after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall. Trump is expected to pardon Bannon, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, as part of a flurry of last-minute clemency action that appears to be still in flux in the last hours of his presidency.
In this Aug. 20, 2020, file photo, President Donald Trump's former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, speaks with reporters in New York after pleading not guilty to charges that he ripped off donors to an online fundraising scheme to build a southern border wall. Trump is expected to pardon Bannon, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, as part of a flurry of last-minute clemency action that appears to be still in flux in the last hours of his presidency.

Thompson scheduled a Tuesday committee vote to adopt a contempt report. If approved, report would be forwarded for a vote in the House for possible referral to the Justice Department.

“The Select Committee will use every tool at its disposal to get the information it seeks, and witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed," Thompson said.

The committee's action represents a major escalation in its effort to compel the cooperation of witnesses and likely sets up a new legal battle for documents and testimony.

Thompson's announcement comes a day after the panel issued a subpoena to former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who lawmakers say repeatedly attempted to use his position to overturn the 2020 election and "interrupt the peaceful transfer of power."

Clark has emerged as a central figure in the former president's efforts to deny President Joe Biden's election.

“The Select Committee needs to understand all the details about efforts inside the previous administration to delay the certification of the 2020 election and amplify misinformation about the election results," Thompson said of the Clark subpoena. "We need to understand Mr. Clark’s role in these efforts at the Justice Department and learn who was involved across the administration.”

Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference to announce the results of the global resolution of criminal and civil investigations with an opioid manufacturer at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.
Acting Assistant U.S. Attorney General Jeffrey Clark speaks as he stands next to Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen during a news conference to announce the results of the global resolution of criminal and civil investigations with an opioid manufacturer at the Justice Department in Washington, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020.

Last week, Clark was featured prominently in a damning Senate Judiciary Committee report that found he attempted to countermand the top leaders at the department by drafting a letter to Georgia officials seeking to delay the state's certification of election results.

Bannon's lawyer Robert Costello declined comment Thursday. But the former aide's legal team had formally notified the committee of Bannon's intention to refuse investigators' requests.

"Since executive privileges belong to President Trump, and he has, through his counsel, announced his intention to assert those executive privileges ... we must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege," defense lawyers told the committee last week.

Bannon headlined a get-out-the-vote rally Wednesday for Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin, an event that Trump participated in by telephone.

The rally featured a Pledge of Alliance to a American flag that, according to organizers, flew at the Jan. 6 pro-Trump rally that preceded the Capitol riot.

In a rambling Thursday statement, Trump referred to the Capitol attack as a "protest" and derided the House panel as the "unselect committee ... looking to hold people in criminal contempt for things relative to the protest, when in fact they should hold themselves in criminal contempt."

More from reporter Kevin Johnson: 4 police died by suicide after the Capitol riot. Their names won't be memorialized.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Steve Bannon, former Trump aide, faces contempt vote from Jan. 6 panel

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