U.S. House finds Steve Bannon in contempt for refusing to testify about Jan. 6 siege
Trump ally said a letter from former president's lawyer directed him not to answer questions
The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former U.S. president Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.
In a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor, the committee's Democratic chairman, Mississippi Rep. Bennie Thompson, led the floor debate along with Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel.
Still, the vote was 229-202 with most Republican lawmakers voting "no," despite the potential consequences for Congress if witnesses are allowed to ignore its demands.
The House vote now sends the matter to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.
Even if the Justice Department does decide to prosecute, the case could take years to play out — potentially pushing past the 2022 election when Republicans could win control of the House and end the investigation.
Democrats vow to punish those who won't co-operate
The partisan split over Bannon's subpoena — and over the committee's investigation in general — is emblematic of the raw tensions that still grip Congress nine months after the Capitol attack.
Democrats have vowed to comprehensively probe the assault in which hundreds of Trump's supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers and interrupted the electoral count certifying U.S. President Joe Biden's victory.
Lawmakers on the investigating committee say they will move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won't co-operate with the probe.
The Jan. 6 committee voted 9-0 Tuesday to recommend the contempt charges after Bannon missed a scheduled interview with the panel last week, citing a letter from Trump's lawyer that directed him not to answer questions.
The committee noted that Bannon did not work at the White House at the time of the insurrection, and that he not only spoke with Trump before the attack but also promoted the protests on his podcast and predicted there would be unrest.
On Jan. 5, Bannon said that "all hell is going to break loose" the next day.
Republicans call probe 'witch hunt'
"We will not allow anyone to derail our work, because our work is too important," Thompson said ahead of the House vote.
Republicans called the probe a "witch hunt," saying it is a waste of time and argue that Congress should be focusing on more important matters.
Indiana Rep. Jim Banks, leading the Republican opposition on the floor, called the probe an "illicit criminal investigation into American citizens" and said Bannon is a "Democrat party boogeyman."
Cheney and Illinois Rep. Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel.
Both have openly criticized Trump and his role in fomenting the insurrection, even as other Republicans have mostly remained silent in the face of Trump's falsehoods about massive fraud in the election.
Trump's claims were rejected by election officials, courts across the country and by his own attorney general.
The lingering acrimony over the insurrection, and the Bannon subpoena, flared Wednesday at a House Rules Committee hearing held to set the parameters of Thursday's debate.
Under intense questioning from Rep. Jamie Raskin, Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Republican who defended Trump and opposed the Bannon contempt effort, said he accepted that Biden is the president but would not say that Biden won the election.
Raskin said, "I know that might work on Steve Bannon's podcast, but that's not going to work in the Rules Committee of the United States House of Representatives, Mr. Gaetz. I'm sorry."