Former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon was due in court on Monday to face the first criminal charges handed down amid a congressional probe of the deadly January 6th attack on the United States Capitol for refusing to co-operate with the investigation.
Mr Bannon is one of more than 30 people close to the Republican former president who have been ordered by the US House of Representatives Select Committee to testify about what happened in the run-up to January 6th, when thousands of people stormed the Capitol building in an attempt to overturn Mr Trump’s election defeat.
House investigators hope the action against Mr Bannon will motivate other witnesses, such as former chief of staff Mark Meadows, to testify. Mr Bannon has refused, citing Mr Trump’s insistence – already rejected by one judge – that he has a right to keep the requested material confidential under a legal doctrine called executive privilege.
US Representative Adam Schiff, Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the January 6th panel, said he believed Mr Bannon’s indictment on two counts of “contempt of Congress” would sway others to drop their defiance.
“It will have a very strong focusing effect on their decision-making,” Schiff told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.
A federal grand jury on Friday indicted Mr Bannon on one count of contempt of Congress for refusing to appear for a deposition and a second count for refusing to produce documents. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanour punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000, the US justice department said.
Bannon (67) is expected to surrender to law enforcement in Washington on Monday and make his initial appearance in federal court, according to the justice department.
Prior Trump pardon
It is the second time in 15 months that Mr Bannon has faced criminal charges. Mr Trump’s former chief strategist was charged in August 2020 with defrauding donors to We Build the Wall, a private fundraising effort to boost the president’s pledge to build a wall on the US-Mexican border. Mr Trump pardoned Mr Bannon before the case could go to trial.
Mr Trump has sought to stonewall the January 6th committee, which is scrutinising his actions relating to the riot, and directed his former associates not to co-operate.
On Sunday, Mr Trump said in a statement: “This country has perhaps never done to anyone what they have done to Steve Bannon and they are looking to do it to others, also.”
Mr Bannon’s indictment was announced just hours after Mr Meadows refused to appear for a deposition before the committee.
Mr Schiff reiterated the committee’s threat to pursue contempt charges against Mr Meadows but said it wants to have the strongest possible case. “When ultimately witnesses decide, as Meadows has, that they’re not even going to bother showing up . . . then it pretty much forces our hand and we’ll move quickly,” he said.
As a top adviser to Mr Trump’s 2016 election campaign, Mr Bannon helped articulate the “America First” right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that helped define Mr Trump’s presidency.
Mr Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs Group Inc banker and Navy veteran who has promoted right-wing causes and candidates in the US and abroad, continued to offer Mr Trump advice after being fired from his White House post in 2017.
Before the January 6th riot, Mr Trump gave a speech to supporters rallying near the White House during which he repeated his false claims that the election was stolen and urged them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell”.
Multiple courts, state election officials and members of Mr Trump’s own administration have rejected his claim that widespread voter fraud was the reason for his loss to president Joe Biden.
The committee has said Mr Bannon made public statements suggesting he knew in advance about “extreme events” that would occur on January 6th. Mr Bannon said on a January 5th podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”.
The last successful prosecution for contempt of Congress was in 1974 when a judge found guilty G Gordon Liddy, a conspirator in the Watergate scandal that drove former US president Richard Nixon to resign. – Reuters