Bannon defies congressional January 6 subpoena, risking contempt charge

Political strategist refuses to give panel documents and testimony about his interactions with former president Trump before the deadly siege of the Capitol

Former US president Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon speaks with reporters in New York, on August 20, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP/File)
Former US president Donald Trump's former chief strategist Steve Bannon speaks with reporters in New York, on August 20, 2020. (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP/File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — A congressional committee investigating the January 6 insurrection could soon recommend criminal contempt charges against former White House aide Steve Bannon, as he defies a subpoena for documents and testimony about his interactions with former US president Donald Trump before the violent siege of the Capitol.

The committee scheduled a Thursday deposition with Bannon, but his lawyer has said that, at Trump’s direction, he won’t appear. A second witness called for a deposition on Thursday, former Defense Department official Kashyap Patel, also will not appear, according to two people familiar with the confidential negotiations, who were granted anonymity to discuss them. But Patel is still engaging with the committee, the people said.

Two other aides who worked for Trump — former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and longtime Trump social media director Dan Scavino — are scheduled for depositions on Friday. It is unclear whether they will appear. Like Patel, Meadows is speaking with the committee.

Bannon’s testimony is just one facet of an escalating congressional inquiry, with 19 subpoenas issued so far and thousands of pages of documents flowing in. But his defiance is a crucial moment for the committee, whose members are vowing to restore the binding force of congressional subpoenas after they were routinely flouted during Trump’s time in office.

Members of the committee have threatened to pursue criminal contempt charges against subpoenaed witnesses who refuse to comply. A House vote would send those charges to the Justice Department, which would then decide whether to prosecute. But that process could take months, if not years, even if the department decides to pursue charges. And such contempt cases are notoriously difficult to win.

Still, other witnesses are cooperating, including some who organized or staffed the Trump rally on the Ellipse behind the White House that preceded the violent riot. The committee subpoenaed 11 rally organizers and gave them a Wednesday deadline to turn over documents and records. They have also been asked to appear at scheduled depositions.

Supporters of then-US president Donald Trump try to break through a police barrier, at the Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6, 2021. (John Minchillo/AP)

Among those responding was Lyndon Brentnall, whose firm was hired to provide Ellipse event security that day. “All the documents and communications requested by the subpoena were handed in,” he told The Associated Press.

Brentnall had previously said, “As far as we’re concerned, we ran security at a legally permitted event run in conjunction with the US Secret Service and the Park Police.”

Two longtime Trump campaign and White House staffers, Megan Powers and Hannah Salem, who were listed on the January 6 rally permit as “operations manager for scheduling and guidance” and “operations manager for logistics and communications,” have also provided documents or are planning to do so.

Powers, who served as the Trump reelection campaign’s director of operations, intends to provide the requested documentation and to meet with the committee — though it remains unclear what form such meetings will take, according to a person familiar with her response, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

It remains unclear whether the others who were subpoenaed intend to cooperate. A committee spokesperson declined to comment Wednesday on the responses it had received and how many of the 11 were complying.

Two additional rally organizers, Ali Alexander and Nathan Martin, as well as their “Stop the Steal” organization, were also subpoenaed for documents, which are due October 21.

Then-US president Donald Trump speaks during a rally protesting the electoral college certification of Joe Biden as president, shortly before the assault on the US Capitol, on Wednesday, January 6, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Many of the rioters who stormed the Capitol on January 6 marched up the National Mall after attending at least part of Trump’s rally, where he repeated his meritless claims of election fraud and implored the crowd to “fight like hell.” Dozens of police officers were injured as the Trump supporters then broke through windows and doors and interrupted the certification of US President Joe Biden’s victory.

The rioters repeated Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud as they marched through the Capitol, even though the results of the election were confirmed by state officials and upheld by the courts. Trump’s own attorney general, William Barr, had said that the Justice Department found no evidence of widespread fraud that could have overturned the results.

Also on Wednesday, the panel issued a subpoena to a former Justice Department lawyer who positioned himself as Trump’s ally and aided the Republican president’s efforts to challenge the results of the 2020 election.

The demands for documents and testimony from Jeffrey Clark reflect the committee’s efforts to probe not only the insurrection, but also the tumult that roiled the Justice Department in the weeks leading up to it, as Trump and his allies leaned on government lawyers to advance his election claims.

Clark, an assistant attorney general in the Trump administration, has emerged as a pivotal character. A Senate committee report issued last week shows that he championed Trump’s efforts to undo the election results, and as a result clashed with Justice Department superiors who resisted the pressure, culminating in a dramatic White House meeting at which Trump ruminated about elevating Clark to attorney general.

“The Select Committee’s investigation has revealed credible evidence that you attempted to involve the Department of Justice in efforts to interrupt the peaceful transfer of power,” the chairman of the committee, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, wrote in a letter to Clark announcing the subpoena.

Security fencing and video surveillance equipment has been installed around the Capitol in Washington, on Thursday, September 16, 2021, ahead of a planned September 18 rally by far-right supporters of former US president Donald Trump, who are demanding the release of rioters arrested in connection with the January 6 insurrection. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

While Trump ultimately did not appoint Clark as acting attorney general, Clark’s “efforts risked involving the Department of Justice in actions that lacked evidentiary foundation and threatened to subvert the rule of law,” Thompson added.

The committee has scheduled a deposition for October 29 and demanded documents by the same date. A lawyer for Clark declined to comment.

The January 6 panel has so far sought testimony from a broad cast of witnesses, but its demands of Trump aides and associates are potentially complicated by Trump’s vow to fight their cooperation on grounds of executive privilege.

Biden has formally rejected Trump’s claim of executive privilege surrounding a tranche of documents requested from the former president’s time in the White House, and set up the documents’ potential release to Congress in mid-November.

White House counsel Dana Remus wrote to the National Archives, in a letter released on Wednesday, that Biden believes that “an assertion of executive privilege is not in the best interests of the United States.”

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