Jan. 6 committee pursues criminal contempt referral for Bannon

By Melissa Macaya, Melissa Mahtani, Meg Wagner and Veronica Rocha, CNN

Updated 7:56 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021
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7:56 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

The first step to proceed with criminal contempt for Steve Bannon is set for next week

From CNN's Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Whitney Wild and Zachary Cohen

Steve Helber/AP
Steve Helber/AP

With the House Select committee officially announcing their decision to move forward with criminal contempt for Steve Bannon, the next step is for the committee to hold a business meeting on Oct. 19,  Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the committee, said.

“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,” Thompson said in the statement. “We reject his position entirely.”

The business meeting is the first step to proceed with criminal contempt. In this meeting, the committee would move to adopt a contempt report, which outlines the efforts the committee made to get a witness to comply with the subpoena and the failure by the witness to do so. 

What would need to happen next: This report is then referred to the House for a vote. If the vote succeeds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi certifies the report to the US attorney for the District of Columbia. Under law, this certification then requires the US attorney to “bring the matter before the grand jury for its action.”

Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress is then guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months in prison. But this process is rarely invoked, and rarely leads to jail time.

6:53 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

Bannon's actions leave "no choice" but to pursue criminal contempt, lawmaker says

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Rep. Bennie Thompson
Rep. Bennie Thompson (CNN)

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the Jan. 6 select committee, told CNN that if Steve Bannon continues to refuse the committee's subpoena, lawmakers will move forward with holding him in criminal contempt.

"We're left with no other choice than to ask the Justice Department [to] lock him up and hold him in contempt ... that might send enough of a message that he will agree to talk to us," Thompson said this evening.

Earlier today, the House Select committee officially announced their decision to move forward with criminal contempt for Bannon. The next step is for the committee to hold a business meeting on Oct. 19, Thompson said in a statement.

“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,” Thompson said in the statement. “We reject his position entirely.”

Speaking on CNN this evening, Thompson said he had received no guarantee from the Department of Justice that they would pursue criminal charges against Bannon, saying "we have intentionally kept ourselves separated from Justice." He added, however, that he hoped Attorney General Merrick Garland would "expedite this indictment for a grand jury."

Thompson suggested his preference is to work things out with Bannon, though that scenario appeared increasingly unlikely.

"We have actually tried to negotiate ... to work this out but Steve Bannon and his advice from former President Trump leaves us no choice," he said. "The committee will do what we are required to do."

4:33 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

White House won't say if Biden thinks those who defy subpoenas in Jan. 6 probe should face prosecution

From CNN's Maegan Vazquez 

(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

 

White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday would not say whether President Biden believes individuals who defy subpoenas related to the Jan. 6 investigation by Congress should face prosecution.

Earlier Thursday, the House Select committee investigating January 6 announced it is moving to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

Responding to a question asked by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins about the President’s stance, Psaki said during the White House press briefing, ”It's the purview of the Department of Justice to determine if there would be a criminal referral … so and they handle exclusively those decisions, so I'd point to them."

Pressed on the matter, given that Biden has decided not to assert executive privilege requested by former President Donald Trump, Psaki responded, “I think why you're asking this question is because it's been raised by … the January 6th Select Committee about criminal actions or criminal referral.”

“That's something that is between them and the Department of Justice and independent agency that would make any of those decisions,” she added.

 

3:34 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

Three other Trump allies also face subpoena deadlines this week

From CNN's Zachary Cohen, Katelyn Polantz, Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer and Whitney Wild

Aside from Steve Bannon, three other Trump allies also face subpoena deadlines this week.

Two of them, Trump's former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former administration official Kash Patel, have been "engaging" with the committee, according to the panel, though it remains unclear if that contact amounts to any form of cooperation.

The select committee agreed to short postponements of Patel's and Meadows' appearances as they continue to engage with the investigation, a committee aide told CNN on Thursday.

But while Patel and Meadows appear to have bought themselves more time, the committee made clear Thursday its patience is limited. Rep. Adam Schiff echoed that sentiment in an interview Thursday, providing a rare window into how the committee is approaching talks with these individuals.

Schiff described Patel to MSNBC as "demonstration of the principle in the Trump administration that the more willing you were to do anything the President wanted, no matter how unscrupulous, the higher and faster you could rise."

"And he rose Phoenix-like through the Trump administration one position after another, even being contemplated to take over the CIA," Schiff said, adding that Patel was "an evil Zelig."

The committee was able only recently to serve Trump's former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino a subpoena, a source familiar with the matter told CNN, and his deadline to appear for a deposition has likely been delayed.

Bannon was scheduled for a deposition in front of the committee on Thursday, and Bannon's lawyer wrote in a letter the day before to the panel saying that his client will not provide testimony or documents until the committee reaches an agreement with former President Trump over executive privilege or a court weighs in on the matter.

3:25 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

Here are the lawmakers on the committee investigating Jan. 6 Capitol attack

Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, speaks during a hearing by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021.
Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-MS, speaks during a hearing by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol on July 27, 2021. Oliver Contreras/Pool/Getty Images

There are nine lawmakers on the Jan. 6 Select Committee. Seven of them are Democrats and two are Republicans.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson is the chair of the committee.

Rep. Liz Cheney is the vice chair. She and Rep. Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the committee. They have defied their party by joining the panel controlled by Democrats, and Cheney even sacrificed her own position in leadership in order to remain vocal and outspoken about the need to investigate the Jan. 6 insurrection at the US Capitol.

Other members are Democratic Reps. Jamie Raskin, Elaine Luria, Adam Schiff, Pete Aguilar, Stephanie Murphy and Zoe Lofgren.

7:05 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

CNN analyst: Holding Bannon in contempt "is a powerful statement by the committee"

Analysis from CNN's Elie Honig

The House Jan. 6 Select Committee is moving to hold Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena. CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig said, "these are difficult charges to make."

"It is a federal criminal misdemeanor to commit contempt of Congress. The maximum punishment is one year. Interestingly, there's actually one month minimum, meaning if you're convicted. You do have to go to prison for a month," Honig explained to CNN's Ana Cabrera.

Honig noted that the one play Bannon could use is pleading the fifth.

"He does have the right to take the fifth amendment against testifying if he may incriminate himself, and he certainly may. Look, Jan. 6 is under criminal investigation. If he takes the fifth, obviously it looks terrible. There's a real appearance issue, but at that point you can't force him to testify unless you immunize him, that's a whole other process, but it's almost impossible to bring a criminal charge if someone has a legitimate fifth amendment right. We'll see if Steve Bannon uses that counter move here," Honig said.

What the next steps could be: The CNN analyst outlined the process and what procedures Congress and the Department of Justice will have to follow in order to move forward with the charge.

"This is a powerful statement by the committee. They are not messing around. Not playing games," he said.

"So the first step in the procedure is the committee has to vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt, then the whole House has to vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt, at that point it shifts over to the Justice Department. The decision making at that point is no longer up to Congress, it is now up to Merrick Garland. That will be an extraordinarily important and difficult decision," Honig said.

Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the committee, said the committee's next business meeting will be Oct. 19.

Honig continued to explain why Bannon is being held in contempt and not the other three witnesses who have been subpoenaed.

"One, he has outright defied this committee. Some of the other ones — we've heard Kash Patel, Mark Meadows — are negotiating, engaging with the committee. Bannon's position from the beginning has been, 'I'm out, I'm not giving you anything.' The other thing about Steve Bannon is, his legal claims and defenses are the weakest because he was not an executive branch employee at the time of these events, so any executive privilege claim he may raise here is completely ridiculous," Honig said.

He added, "[Bannon] was reportedly in Trump's ear from the time before of Jan. 6, leading up to Jan. 6. I mean, he's been one of Donald Trump's closest political advisers really from before the 2016 election, so, yeah — and there's plenty of evidence that Steve Bannon was centrally involved here. The committee has said they chose Bannon for a reason. So I think there's a reason they picked this fight."

4:42 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

A look back at Bannon's relationship with Trump before the Jan. 6 riot

From CNN's Sara Murray, Katelyn Polantz and Ryan Nobles

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Steve Bannon, who was Trump's former White House chief strategist, spoke with Trump in December, urging him to focus on January 6 — the date of the official certification on the Electoral College vote by Congress, according to authors Bob Woodward and Robert Costa in their book "Peril."

"'We're going to bury Biden on January 6th,'" Bannon is quoted as saying.

Woodward and Costa also reported that Trump called Bannon following his contentious Jan. 6 meeting with then-Vice President Mike Pence, in which the vice president said he does not have the authority to block certification of Joe Biden's win.

In its letter to Bannon, the Jan. 6 select committee cited communications he had with Trump in December "and potentially other occasions" in which Bannon reportedly urged Trump "to plan for and focus his efforts on January 6."

To former Trump officials Mark Meadows, the committee wrote that investigation has revealed "credible evidence of your involvement in events within the scope of the Select Committee's inquiry," citing his close proximity to Trump on the day of the attack. The committee also wants to learn more about Meadows' efforts to aid overturning the 2020 election results.

The committee announced today that it is moving forward to hold Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena, as his game of chicken with the House panel now enters a new and critical phase.

"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," Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson, who chairs the committee, said in a statement on Thursday.

With the committee officially announcing their decision to move forward with criminal contempt for Bannon, the next step is for the committee to hold a business meeting, which Thompson said would be Oct. 19.

4:47 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

Jan. 6 committee agrees to postpone appearances by Meadows, Patel and Scavino

From CNN's Ryan Nobles, Annie Grayer, Whitney Wild and Zachary Cohen

The House Select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol has agreed to short postponements for Mark Meadows and Kash Patel to appear before the committee and provide testimony as both of them continue to “engage” with the investigation, a source familiar with the matter tells CNN.

The committee also has postponed a scheduled deposition for Dan Scavino because service of his subpoena was delayed, the source said. 

Patel, a former Department of Defense official from the Trump era, had been scheduled to sit for a deposition today. Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, and Scavino, the former deputy chief of staff, had been scheduled to appear before the committee on Friday.

3:27 p.m. ET, October 14, 2021

Here's what criminal contempt is — and what it could mean for Trump ally Steve Bannon 

From CNN's Zachary Cohen, Katelyn Polantz, Ryan Nobles and Annie Grayer

Steve Helber/AP
Steve Helber/AP

The committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol Hill attack announced it is moving forward to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena, as his game of chicken with the House panel now enters a new and critical phase.

Criminal contempt is one of the three options the Jan. 6 congressional panel can pursue to enforce its subpoenas, along with civil and inherent contempt. To pursue criminal contempt charges, Congress would vote on criminal contempt, then make a referral to the executive branch — headed by the President — to try to get the person criminally prosecuted.

Bannon's lawyer on Wednesday wrote a letter to the panel saying that his client will not provide testimony or documents until the committee reaches an agreement with former President Donald Trump over executive privilege or a court weighs in on the matter. 

If Bannon is a no-show, the committee is expected to immediately begin seeking a referral for criminal contempt after the subpoena deadline passes — essentially making an example of Bannon's noncompliance as the House seeks more witnesses, sources familiar with the planning told CNN.

While it could take some time before the House sends such a referral to the Department of Justice, the committee could take initial steps within hours of the panel's stated deadline – which is Thursday — if Bannon refuses to cooperate, the sources added, underscoring the growing sense of urgency around the investigation itself.

What this step could mean for Bannon: As severe as a criminal contempt referral sounds, the House's choice to use the Justice Department may be more of a warning shot than a solution.

Holding Trump Bannon in criminal contempt through a prosecution could take years, and historic criminal contempt cases have been derailed by appeals and acquittals.

"They're in a box, in a way," Stanley Brand, a former House general counsel, said on Wednesday. "Any way they go is a legal donnybrook, potentially that will take time."

Congress almost never forces a recalcitrant witness into testifying through prosecution, according to several longtime Washington attorneys familiar with congressional proceedings.

An Environmental Protection Agency official in the Reagan administration was the last person indicted for criminal contempt of Congress. The DC US Attorney's Office of the Justice Department took eight days from receiving the House's contempt referral for Rita Lavelle in 1983 to having a grand jury indict her. Lavelle fought the charges to trial, and a jury found her not guilty.

At least one other criminal contempt proceeding predating Lavelle, during the anti-communist McCarthy-era investigations of the 1950s, was overturned by the Supreme Court on appeal. In more recent administrations, the Justice Department has declined to prosecute contempt referrals – though in those situations, Congress has made contempt referrals on members of the sitting president's administration.

"I'm watching people on TV bloviate about this. They're going to send [Bannon] to criminal contempt. OK. Fine. That just starts the case," Brand, who was the House general counsel during Lavelle's contempt proceedings, told CNN. "There's a trial. It's not automatic they're going to get convicted."

The criminal contempt approach also is structured to be more of a punishment than an attempt to compel a witness to speak.

Read the full story here.

CNN's Paul LeBlanc contributed reporting to this story.