The investigative committee on the Capitol bombing of January 6 announcement he goes ahead to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena because his chicken game with the House panel is now entering a new critical phase.
Criminal contempt is part of the three choices the Jan. 6 congressional panel can sue to enforce its subpoenas, as well as civil and inherent contempt. To prosecute the criminal contempt charges, Congress would vote on the criminal contempt and then make a referral to the executive branch – headed by the president – to try to have the person criminally prosecuted.
Bannon’s attorney wrote a letter to the panel on Wednesday saying his client will not provide testimony or documents until the committee reaches an agreement with former President Donald Trump on executive privilege or a court rules on the matter.
If Bannon does not show up, the committee should immediately begin seeking a criminal contempt referral after the subpoena deadline expires – essentially making an example of Bannon’s failure as a House. looking for more witnesses, sources familiar with the planning told CNN.
While it may take some time before the House sends such a referral to the Justice Department, the committee could take the first steps within hours of the panel’s deadline – which is Thursday – if Bannon refuses. to cooperate, the sources added, noting the growing sense of urgency surrounding the investigation itself.
What this step could mean for Bannon: Serious as a referral for criminal contempt may seem, the House’s choice to use the Department of Justice may be more of a wake-up call than a solution.
Holding Trump Bannon for criminal contempt through prosecution could take years, and historic cases of criminal contempt have been derailed with appeals and acquittals.
“They’re in a box, sort of,” Stanley Brand, a former House general counsel, said Wednesday. “Any road they are going to take is legal donnybrook, it will potentially take some time.”
Congress almost never forces a reluctant witness to testify by prosecution, according to several longtime Washington lawyers familiar with Congressional proceedings.
An official with the Reagan administration’s Environmental Protection Agency was the last person to be charged with criminal contempt of Congress. The DC Department of Justice’s US Attorney’s Office took eight days to receive the House’s contempt of Rita Lavelle referral in 1983. to have a grand jury to indict him. Lavelle fought the charges until trial, and a the jury found her not guilty.
At least one other criminal contempt proceeding prior to Lavelle, during the McCarthy-era anti-Communist investigations in the 1950s, was knocked down by the Supreme Court on appeal. In more recent administrations, the Ministry of Justice refused to pursue dismissals for contempt – although in these situations, Congress has made referrals for contempt of members of the administration of the incumbent president.
“I watch people on TV talking about this. They will send [Bannon] to criminal contempt. OKAY. Fine. This is just the beginning of the case, ”Brand, who was the House’s attorney general in the Lavelle contempt proceedings, told CNN. “There is a trial. It is not automatic that they are condemned. “
The criminal contempt approach is also structured to be more of a punishment than an attempt to coerce a witness into speaking.
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CNN’s Paul LeBlanc contributed reporting for this story.