The House is voting Thursday whether to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime aide and aide of former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress after he left a committee investigating the violent January 6 Capitol uprising. The summons was disobeyed.
That committee has vowed to take swift and coercive steps to punish anyone who does not cooperate with the investigation. But it is up to the Justice Department and the courts to decide what happens next.
If the House vote is successful, as expected, there is still considerable uncertainty about whether the Justice Department will prosecute Bannon despite Democratic demands for action.
The results can determine not only the effectiveness of a House investigation but also the strength of Congress’s power to call witnesses and seek information—factors that will certainly weigh on justice officials as they determine whether whether to proceed or not. 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.
To emphasize the unity of the committee in holding Bannon accountable, the Democratic chairman of the panel, Mississippi Rep. Benny Thompson, Republican Rep. Will lead debate on the bill with Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the committee—a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor.
Still, most House Republicans are expected to vote against the contempt measure, regardless of the institution’s potential consequences.
Stephen Saltzberg, a George Washington University law professor and former Justice Department official, said if Congress can’t do its oversight, “the message to the general public is this subpoena is a joke”. He added that if Attorney General Merrick Garland, a former federal judge whom Saltzberg knows “as one of the most nonpartisan people,” doesn’t authorize a prosecution, “he’s going to let the Constitution do that.” Looks like I’ve been put in this. Threat and letting it happen is very important to him.”
Democrats are pressuring justice to take the case, arguing that nothing less than democracy is in line.
“The stakes are huge,” said Maryland Rep. Jamie Ruskin, a member of the panel. “Under Article One, the Congress of the United States has the power to investigate so as to proceed with our deliberations. That’s what it is about.”
Yet, prosecution is not a given. Assuming his position after a turbulent Trump era, Garland has made it a priority to restore the department’s “norms.” On his first day, he told rank-and-file prosecutors that he should focus on equal justice and not feel pressured to protect the president’s allies or attack his enemies. He has repeatedly said that political considerations should not play a role in any decision.
And his duties pushed back – hard – when President Joe Biden suggested to reporters last week that Bannon should be prosecuted for contempt.
“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all cases based solely on facts and law. Period. Full stop,” Garland’s spokesman, Anthony Cooley, said Friday in response to the president’s comments.
The January 6 panel voted on Tuesday evening to recommend contempt charges against Bannon, citing reports that he had spoken with Trump before the rebellion sparked protests that day and predicted that There will be unrest. Members said Bannon was alone in defying his summons altogether, while more than a dozen other witnesses were speaking to at least the panel.
On Thursday, the case will be referred to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, assuming the full House votes in contempt of Bannon. Then it will be up to prosecutors in that office whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges. The office is run by Channing Phillips, an acting U.S. attorney who previously held the position in the Obama administration. Another lawyer, Matt Graves, has been nominated for the position, but his nomination is pending in the Senate.
“If the House of Representatives certifies a criminal contempt citation, the Justice Department, as with all criminal referrals, will evaluate the case on the basis of facts and law consistent with the principles of federal prosecution,” said Bill Miller, a spokesman. For the US Attorney’s Office in Washington.
The Justice Department has been wary of prosecuting contempt of Congress in the past, especially when the White House and the House of Representatives are controlled by opposing political parties. During the Obama administration, the department declined to prosecute then-Attorney General Eric Holder and former IRS officer Lois Lerner following contempt referrals from the Republican-led House. And George W. Bush’s Justice Department declined to indict Harriet Myers after a former White House attorney defied a subpoena in the Democratic investigation into the mass shootings of United States lawyers.
In addition, the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel has said in a number of opinions—including Anne Gorsuch, the mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch in the 1980s, who in her capacity as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, turned over the documents. – that the Department of Justice has the discretion…
Credit: www.independent.co.uk / Steve Bannon