Jan. 6 committee advances report to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt

By Melissa Macaya

Updated 11:16 a.m. ET, October 20, 2021
21 Posts
Sort byDropdown arrow
8:29 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

The Jan. 6 committee is moving ahead with holding Bannon in criminal contempt. Here's what it means.

From CNN's Paul LeBlanc

Members of the House select committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol have shown they're willing to pursue criminal contempt referrals against witnesses who refuse to comply with the panel's subpoenas.

But what does criminal contempt mean?

Criminal contempt is one of the three options the congressional panel can pursue to enforce its subpoenas, along with civil and inherent contempt.

In the first test of the panel's willingness to pursue such a referral, the committee voted unanimously Tuesday evening to refer Trump ally Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal contempt charges after he refused to comply with a subpoena deadline.

"It's a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position. But we won't take 'no' for an answer," Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said ahead of the vote. "We believe Mr. Bannon has information relevant to our probe, and we'll use the tools at our disposal to get that information."

The panel had sent him a letter on Friday rejecting his argument for failing to comply while dismissing his claim of executive privilege, particularly as it relates to his communications with individuals other than former President Trump, according to a copy obtained by CNN.

Now that the criminal contempt referral of Bannon has cleared the committee, it heads to the House for a vote. If that vote succeeds, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi certifies the report to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia.

Here are some more key things to know about criminal contempt:

Under law, this certification then requires the United States attorney to "bring the matter before the grand jury for its action," but the Justice Department will also makes its own determinations for prosecuting.

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 imprisonment. But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time.

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

8:25 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Norm Eisen: History will "look favorably" on Republicans who voted to enforce the Bannon subpoena

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

US Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger attend Tuesday night’s vote.
US Reps. Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger attend Tuesday night’s vote. (J. Scott Applewhite/AP)

Norm Eisen, a former counsel to House Democrats during the impeachment trial of former President Trump, praised the two Republicans serving on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 US Capitol attack, both of whom voted to enforce the subpoena for Trump ally Steve Bannon, saying history would judge them kindly.

"History will look favorably on Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger for their strong voices," he said naming the only two Republicans who serve on the panel.

"What is really going on here is that Trump, and his cronies, first among them Bannon, are trying to hide," said Eisen, moments after the contempt report on Bannon had unanimously passed. "...As a matter of law, that allows the inference."

Eisen said he believes "more damaging information" would emerge about the Jan. 6 attack, which Trump and allies are seeking to hide.

8:10 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Rep. Schiff after contempt vote: "No one is above the law"

From CNN's Annie Grayer

Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat from California and member of the Jan. 6 committee, has tweeted his thoughts after tonight’s contempt vote, saying despite what Steve Bannon and former President Trump may believe, “no one is above the law.”

See his tweet:

10:46 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Jan. 6 committee adopts report to hold Steve Bannon in criminal contempt. Now the House must vote.

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

Steve Bannon gives a speech in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday.
Steve Bannon gives a speech in Richmond, Virginia, on Wednesday. (Steve Helber/AP)

The House committee investigating the Jan. 6 US Capitol attack adopted a report to hold Steve Bannon, one of former President Trump's closest allies, in contempt of Congress Tuesday night. It passed unanimously. 

The report will now be referred to the House for a vote. Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told CNN on Tuesday that he expects the full House to vote on criminal contempt charges for Bannon before the end of the week, and a source familiar with the floor schedule told CNN the plan is for the the chamber to vote on the referral on Thursday.

After the full House vote, it would then get referred to the Justice Department.

The contempt report, which was released Monday night, outlines the efforts the committee made to get a witness to comply with the subpoena, and the failure by the witness to do so.

Tonight's action marks a critical milestone in the investigation as the panel hopes even the remote threat of jail time inspires more Trump-aligned witnesses to cooperate.

More on this: Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress would be guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months imprisonment.

But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time — though the House's pursuit of criminal charges may be more about making an example out of Bannon and sending a message to other potential witnesses.

9:16 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Read the Jan. 6 committee's full criminal contempt report on Steve Bannon

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

The committee investigating the January 6 riot at the US Capitol released its contempt report Monday on former President Trump ally Steve Bannon, a document that outlines the efforts the committee took to get Bannon to comply with its subpoena — and the failure by him to do so.

The panel is voting now to adopt the report. The criminal contempt report lays out all the correspondence between the committee and Bannon, revealing new details about what happened the day of his scheduled deposition and making his full subpoena publicly available for the first time.

Throughout the report, the committee makes the case for why Bannon's claim of executive privilege does not hold up and lays out the legal argument for why he must comply with the subpoena.

Read the full report here.

9:18 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Jan. 6 committee voting now on holding Trump loyalist Steve Bannon in criminal contempt

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

The Jan. 6 committee is voting to adopt a report recommending that the House hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The contempt report, which was released Monday night, outlines the efforts the committee made to get a witness to comply with the subpoena, and the failure by the witness to do so.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told CNN on Tuesday that he expects the full House to vote on criminal contempt charges for Bannon before the end of the week, and a source familiar with the floor schedule told CNN the plan is for the the chamber to vote on the referral on Thursday.

After the full House vote, it would then get referred to the Justice Department.

10:34 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Cheney: "Bannon has no legal right to ignore the committee's lawful subpoena"

From CNN's Maureen Chowdhury

GOP Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the Jan. 6 committee, said the panel had no choice but to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing a congressional subpoena.

Cheney highlighted how on Jan. 5, Bannon "publicly professed knowledge that, 'All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.'"

Cheney continued, "He forecast that the day would be, 'Extraordinarily different than what most Americans expected.' He said to his listeners and his viewers, 'So many people said if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.' Well, he said, 'This is your time in history.' Based on the committee's investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advanced knowledge of the plans for Jan. 6, and likely had an important role in formulating those plans."

Cheney noted that Bannon's defiance and lack of cooperation is why the committee is moving forward to hold him in criminal contempt.

"The American people are entitled to Mr. Bannon's first-hand testimony about all these relevant facts. But as the chairman noted, Mr. Bannon is refusing to provide it. Reserving our Constitution and the rule of law is a central purpose of this investigation. The plain fact here is that Mr. Bannon has no legal right to ignore the committee's lawful subpoena," she said.

Cheney said Bannon's defense of executive privilege does not apply.

"President Trump's direct communications with Mr. Bannon regarding the planning for Jan. 6, this information should not be subject to any privilege at all. And certainly there is no basis for absolute or unqualified privilege for presidential communications. More important now, there is no conceivably applicable privilege that could shield Mr. Bannon from testimony on all of the many other topics identified in this committee's subpoena. Because he is categorically refused to appear, we have no choice but to seek consequences for Mr. Bannon's failure to comply. Those consequences are not just important for this investigation, they are important for all congressional investigations," Cheney said.

Cheney then went on to assert, "Mr. Bannon's, and Mr. Trump's privileged arguments do, however, appear to reveal one thing. They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of Jan. 6 and this committee will get to the bottom of that."

10:13 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

Thompson on Bannon subpoena: "We won't take no for an answer"

From CNN's Josiah Ryan

Committee chairman Bennie Thompson speaks at Tuesday night's vote.
Committee chairman Bennie Thompson speaks at Tuesday night's vote. (Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images)

Rep. Bennie Thompson, the chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, said the panel's plan to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt brings him "no joy," but the committee would not take no for answer.

"Let me start by saying that it gives me no joy that I've been forced to call this meeting," he said as the committee prepared to vote. "The expectation of this committee is that all witnesses will cooperate with our investigation."

"So it's a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position but we won't take no for an answer. We believe Mr. Bannon has information relevant to our probe, and we'll use the tools at our disposal to get that information. I expect that the House will quickly adopt this referral through the Justice Department and that the US attorney will do his duty, and prosecute Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress," he said.

"Our goal is simple. We want Mr. Bannon to answer our questions. We want him to turn over whatever records he possess that are relevant to the select committee's investigation. The issue in front of us today is our ability to do our job," he continued.

Thompson said that Bannon "stands alone in his complete defiance" of the House subpoenas, adding "that's not acceptable. No one in this country, no matter how wealthy or how powerful, is above the law."

"For folks watching at home this evening, I want you to think about something. What would happen to you if you did what Mr. Bannon is doing? If you were a material witness in a criminal prosecution or some other lawsuit, what would happen if you refused to show up? Do you think you would be able to just go about your business? We all know the answer to that," Thompson said. "There isn't a different set of rules for Mr. Bannon. He knows this. He knows that there are consequences for outright defiance. And he's chosen the path to criminal contempt by taking this position."

The chair warned that if other witnesses followed in Bannon’s footsteps of noncompliance, they would face a similar criminal contempt reality as Bannon. 

“I want other witnesses to understand something very plainly: if you’re thinking of following the path Mr. Bannon has gone down, you’re on notice that this is what you’ll face” Thompson said. 

Thompson added that the committee, "won't be deterred. We won't be distracted. And we won't be delayed."

The panel is meeting tonight to adopt a contempt report on Bannon, which outlines the efforts it took to get him to comply with its subpoena and his failure to do so.

The report will then be referred to the House for a vote. After the full House vote expected Thursday, it would then go to the Justice Department.

CNN's Annie Grayer contributed reporting to this post.

10:14 p.m. ET, October 19, 2021

NOW: Jan. 6 committee meeting on holding Trump loyalist Steve Bannon in criminal contempt

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

The Jan. 6 committee is meeting now to vote on a report recommending that the House hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena.

The contempt report, which was released Monday night, outlines the efforts the committee made to get the witness to comply with the subpoena, and the failure by the witness to do so.

Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson told CNN on Tuesday that he expects the full House to vote on criminal contempt charges for Bannon before the end of the week, and a source familiar with the floor schedule told CNN the plan is for the the chamber to vote on the referral on Thursday. After the full House vote, it would then get referred to the Justice Department.

The criminal contempt report is expected to move to the floor without any opposition from the committee members and marks a critical milestone in the investigation as the panel hopes even the remote threat of jail time inspires more Trump-aligned witnesses to cooperate.

Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress would be guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months imprisonment. But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time — though the House's pursuit of criminal charges may be more about making an example out of Bannon and sending a message to other potential witnesses.

You can read the committee's full criminal contempt report on Bannon here.