Congress vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt amid U.S. Capitol riot investigation

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The House voted to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime aide and aide of former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena of a committee investigating the violent January 6 Capitol riots.

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In a rare show of bipartisanship on the floor of the House, the Democratic chair of the committee, Mississippi Representative Benny Thompson, led a floor debate with Republican Representative Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of the two Republicans on the panel. Still, the vote was 229-202, but with nine GOP lawmakers who voted saying “no.”

The House vote sends the case to the US Attorney’s office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to present the case to a grand jury for potential criminal charges. It is still uncertain whether they will pursue the case – Attorney General Merrick Garland will only say at a House hearing on Thursday that he plans to “make a decision consistent with the principles of the prosecution.”

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The partisan division over Bannon’s summons — and over committee investigations in general — symbolizes the raw tension that continues to grip Congress nine months after the Capitol attack. Democrats have vowed to conduct a comprehensive investigation into the attack in which hundreds of Trump supporters overtook police, injured dozens of officers and obstructed the election count that testified to President Joe Biden’s victory.

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Lawmakers on the inquiry committee say they will take swift and coercive steps to punish anyone who does not cooperate with the investigation.

“We won’t let anyone derail our work because our work is so important,” Thompson said before the vote.

Republicans call it a “witch hunt,” say it’s a waste of time and argue that Congress should focus on matters more important than the riots.

Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, leading the GOP opposition on the floor, called the investigation an “illegal criminal investigation into American citizens” and said Bannon is a “Democrat Party boogeyman”.

Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kizinger is the only two Republicans on the January 6 panel, and both have openly criticized Trump and his role in instigating the riot, while most House Republicans have largely remained silent in the face of Trump’s lies about fraud. in the election. Trump’s claims were rejected by election officials, courts across the country, and his own attorney general.

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The January 6 committee voted 9-0 on Tuesday to recommend the contempt charges, citing a letter from Trump’s attorney, after Bannon missed a scheduled interview with the panel last week. They were instructed not to answer questions. The committee noted that Bannon had not worked in the White House at the time of the attack, and that he had not only spoken with Trump before, but promoted protests on his podcast and predicted there would be unrest. On January 5, Bannon said that “all hell is going to break loose.”

The panel’s lawmakers said Bannon alone was rejecting his summons outright, while more than a dozen other witnesses were conversing with him at least.

“Mr. Bannon’s own public statements make clear that he knew what was about to happen before he did, and thus he should have been aware of – and could be involved in – whatever played out that day. Don’t go, plan it,” Cheney continued. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”

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Even if the Justice Department decides to prosecute, the case could take years to run _ potentially leading to the 2022 election when Republicans can win control of the House and end the investigation. .

There is still considerable uncertainty about whether the department will pursue the charges despite Democratic demands for action. It is a decision that will determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation but also the strength of Congress’s power to call witnesses and seek information.

While the department has historically been reluctant to use its prosecuting power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are extraordinary as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the US Capitol in two centuries.

Democrats are pressuring justice to take the case, arguing that nothing less than democracy is in line.

“The stakes are huge,” Maryland Representative Jamie Ruskin said in an interview with the Associated Press.

If the Justice Department does not prosecute, the House has other options, including a civil lawsuit. It may take years but Bannon and any other witnesses will be forced to defend themselves in court.

Another option for Congress would be to try to imprison defiant witnesses—an unlikely, if not outlandish, scenario. Called “implicit contempt”, the process was used in the country’s early years, but has not been employed in nearly a century.

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The House Rules Committee hearing held to set the parameters of Thursday’s debate drew sharp reactions to the riots and Bannon subpoena on Wednesday. Under intense questioning from Ruskin, Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, a Republican who defended Trump and opposed the Bannon contempt effort, said he acknowledged Biden is president, but would not say Biden won the election. Went.

“I know Steve Bannon’s podcast may be in the works, but it won’t work on the rules committee of the United States House of Representatives, Mr. Getz. I’m sorry,” Ruskin said.

Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker and Farnoush Amiri contributed to this report.

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