By Jan Wolfe and Mark Hosenball
(Reuters) -Stephen Bannon, a prominent adviser to former U.S. President Donald Trump, has been criminally charged for defying a subpoena issued by a congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, the Justice Department said on Friday.
Bannon has refused to cooperate with the House of Representatives select committee seeking his testimony and documents, citing Trump’s insistence – already rejected by one judge – that he has a right to keep the requested material confidential under a legal doctrine called executive privilege.
Bannon, 67, was charged with one count of contempt of Congress for refusing to appear for a deposition and a second count for refusing to produce documents. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $100,000.
Trump has sought to stonewall the committee, which is scrutinizing his actions relating to the deadly Capitol riot, and urged his former associates not to cooperate. The decision to charge Bannon may bolster the committee’s efforts to secure testimony and documents from other Trump advisers.
Bannon’s indictment was announced just hours after Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows refused to appear for a deposition before the committee, risking being also found in contempt of Congress.
Bannon, a prominent figure in conservative media circles who previously headed the Breitbart News website, served as chief strategist for Trump in the White House after playing a senior role in his 2016 election campaign. Bannon continued to offer Trump advice even after leaving his White House post in 2017.
It is the second time in two years that Bannon has faced criminal charges. Bannon was charged in 2020 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-bannon/steve-bannon-key-to-trumps-rise-charged-with-defrauding-border-wall-supporters-idUSKBN25G1J4 with defrauding donors to We Build the Wall, a private fund-raising effort to boost Trump’s wall project along the U.S.-Mexican border, and arrested aboard a yacht belonging to a fugitive Chinese billionaire. Trump subsequently issued a pardon https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-pardons/trump-pardons-ex-aide-bannon-but-not-himself-or-family-idUSKBN29P0BE to Bannon before that case could go to trial.
Bannon did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Democratic-led House of Representatives voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress in October. Most of Trump’s fellow Republicans in Congress opposed creating an independent commission or a committee to investigate the events surrounding Jan. 6.
On that day, a mob of Trump supporters rioted at the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent formal congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory. Before the riot, Trump gave a speech to his supporters repeating his false claims that the election was stolen from him and urged them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to “stop the steal.”
The committee has said that Bannon made public statements suggesting he knew ahead of time about “extreme events” that would take place on Jan. 6. Bannon said on a Jan. 5 podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
After the House voted to hold Bannon in contempt, it was up to the Justice Department, headed by Attorney General Merrick Garland, to decide whether to actually bring criminal charges.
Garland addressed the issue in the statement announcing the indictment, saying that his department “adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law.”
Trump on Oct. 18 sued the select committee and the National Archives, which holds material dating from his presidency, in a bid to keep hundreds of pages of White House records secret. A judge rejected Trump’s lawsuit on Tuesday, saying the public interest in learning about Trump’s actions on Jan. 6 was paramount. Trump has appealed that ruling.
The committee said on Friday it may seek to hold Meadows in contempt of Congress for likewise defying its subpoenas. If supported by the full House, that would allow the Justice Department to prosecute Meadows as well. Meadows’s lawyer maintains that senior White House aides cannot be forced to testify.
The last successful prosecution for contempt of Congress was in 1974 when a judge found G. Gordon Liddy, a conspirator in the Watergate scandal that drove President Richard Nixon to resign, guilty.
(Reporting by Jan Wolfe in Washington and Ismail Shakil in Bengaluru, Editing by Will Dunham, Andy Sullivan and Rosalba O’Brien)
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