Trump adviser Steve Bannon indicted on contempt charges for defying Capitol riot subpoena

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The Justice Department said Mr. Bannon was indicted on one count for refusing to appear for a deposition last month and the other for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena.

Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, was indicted Friday on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

The Justice Department said Mr. Bannon (67) was indicted on one count for refusing to appear for a deposition last month and the other for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. He is expected to surrender to authorities on Monday and will appear in court that afternoon, a law enforcement official told the AP. The person was granted anonymity to discuss the case.

The indictment comes after a parade of Trump administration officials — including Mr. Bannon — have defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence, including during Democrats' impeachment inquiry. President Barack Obama's administration also declined to charge two of its officials who defied congressional demands.

Attorney General Merrick Garland said Mr. Bannon’s indictment reflects the Justice Department’s “steadfast commitment” to the rule of law. Each count carries a minimum of 30 days of jail and as long as a year behind bars.

The indictment came as a second expected witness, former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, defied his own subpoena from the committee on Friday and as Mr. Trump has escalated his legal battles to withhold documents and testimony about the insurrection.

If the House votes to hold Mr. Meadows in contempt, that recommendation would also be sent to the Justice Department for a possible indictment.

Officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations have been held in contempt by Congress, but criminal indictments for contempt are exceedingly rare. The most recent notable examples of criminal penalties for not testifying before Congress date to the 1970s, including when President Richard Nixon’s aide G. Gordon Liddy was convicted of misdemeanor charges for refusing to answer questions about his role in the Watergate scandal.

Democrats who voted to hold Mr. Bannon in contempt praised the Justice Department's decision, saying the charges reinforce the authority of Congress to investigate the executive branch and signal potential consequences for those who refuse to cooperate.

“The days of defying subpoenas with impunity are over,” tweeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, who sits on the January 6 panel and also led Mr. Trump's first impeachment inquiry. “We will expose those responsible for Jan 6. No one is above the law.”

The chairman of the January 6 panel, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, told reporters at an event in his home state of Mississippi on Friday that he will recommend contempt charges against Mr. Meadows next week.

Mr. Thompson and the vice chairwoman of the panel, Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, said in a statement: “Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail in stopping the Select Committee’s effort getting answers for the American people about January 6th, making legislative recommendations to help protect our democracy, and helping ensure nothing like that day ever happens again."

Mr. Meadows and Mr. Bannon are key witnesses for the panel, as they both were in close touch with Mr. Trump around the time of the insurrection.

Mr. Meadows was Mr. Trump’s top aide at the end of his presidency and was one of several people who pressured state officials to try and overturn the results. Mr. Bannon promoted the January 6 protests on his podcast and predicted there would be unrest. On January 5, he predicted that “all hell is going to break loose.”

The indictment says Mr. Bannon didn’t communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on September 24 until October 7 when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due.

Mr. Bannon, who worked at the White House at the beginning of the Trump administration and currently serves as host of the conspiracy-minded “War Room” podcast, is a private citizen who “refused to appear to give testimony as required by a subpoena,” the indictment says.

When Mr. Bannon declined to appear for his deposition in October, his attorney said the former Trump adviser had been directed by a lawyer for Trump citing executive privilege not to answer questions. The attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday.

This is not the first time the longtime Trump ally has faced legal peril. In August of last year, Mr. Bannon was pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested on allegations that he and three associates ripped off donors trying to fund a southern border wall. Mr. Trump later pardoned Mr. Bannon in the final hours of his presidency.

Mr. Meadows, a former congressman from North Carolina, defied his subpoena on Friday after weeks of discussions with the committee. His lawyer said that Mr. Meadows has a “sharp legal dispute” with the panel as Mr. Trump has claimed executive privilege over the former chief of staff's testimony, as he had with Bannon's.

The White House said in a letter Thursday that President Joe Biden would waive any privilege that would prevent Mr. Meadows from cooperating with the committee, prompting Mr. Meadows' lawyer to say he wouldn't comply.

“Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts,” said the lawyer, George Terwilliger. “It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues.”

As the sitting president, Mr. Biden has so far waived most of Mr. Trump's assertions of privilege over documents and interviews, citing the interest of the public in knowing what happened on January 6. Mr. Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to stop the release of documents, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has repeatedly backed Mr. Biden's position, noting in one ruling this week that “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”

The panel's proceedings and attempts to gather information have been delayed as Mr. Trump has appealed Ms. Chutkan's rulings. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of some of the White House records the panel is seeking, giving that court time to consider Mr. Trump's arguments.

Still, the House panel is continuing its work, and members have already interviewed more than 150 witnesses in an attempt to build a comprehensive record of how a violent mob of Mr. Trump's supporters broke into the Capitol and temporarily halted the certification of Mr. Biden's victory.

The committee has subpoenaed almost three dozen people, including former White House staffers, Trump allies who strategized about how to overturn his defeat and people who organized a giant rally near the White House on the morning of January 6. While some, like Mr. Meadows and Mr. Bannon, have balked, others have spoken to the panel and provided documents.

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