Bannon indicted on contempt charges for defying Jan. 6 committee subpoena
WASHINGTON — Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, has been indicted on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the House committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Justice Department said Friday that Bannon, 67, was indicted on one count for refusing to appear for a deposition last month and one count for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. Each count carries a minimum of 30 days of jail and as long as a year behind bars.
Bannon is expected to surrender to authorities on Monday and will appear in court that afternoon, a law enforcement official told The Associated Press. The official was not authorized to publicly discuss the case and spoke on condition of anonymity.
A parade of Trump administration officials, including Bannon, have defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence, including during Democrats' impeachment inquiry. President Barack Obama's administration also declined to charge two of its officials who defied congressional demands.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Bannon’s indictment reflects the Justice Department’s “steadfast commitment” to the rule of law.
The House voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress on Oct. 21 after he refused to show up for a deposition or even engage with the committee as it investigates the siege of Trump's supporters that was the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
A second expected witness, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, defied his own subpoena from the committee on Friday, as Trump has escalated his legal battles to withhold documents and testimony about the insurrection.
If the House votes to hold Meadows in contempt, that recommendation would go to the Justice Department for a possible indictment. The chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters at an event in his home state Friday that he will recommend contempt charges against Meadows this coming week.
In a statement, Thompson and the committee's Republican vice chairwoman, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, said Bannon's indictment “should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law.”
They added: “Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail."
Officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations have been held in contempt by Congress, but criminal indictments for contempt are rare. The most recent notable examples of criminal penalties for not testifying before Congress date to the 1970s, including when President Richard Nixon’s aide G. Gordon Liddy was convicted of misdemeanor charges for refusing to answer questions about his role in the Watergate scandal.
Bannon and Meadows are key witnesses for the committee because they both were in close touch with Trump around the time of the insurrection.
Meadows was Trump’s top aide at the end of his presidency and was one of several people who pressured state officials to try and overturn the results of the 2020 election that Democrat Joe Biden won. Bannon promoted the Jan. 6 protests on his podcast after predicting the day before that “all hell is going to break loose.”
The indictment says Bannon didn’t communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on Sept. 24 until Oct. 7, when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due.
Bannon, who left his job at the White House in 2017 and currently serves as host of the conspiracy-minded “War Room” podcast, is a private citizen who “refused to appear to give testimony as required by a subpoena,” the indictment says.
When Bannon declined to appear for his deposition in October, his attorney said the former Trump adviser had been directed by a lawyer for Trump, citing executive privilege, not to answer questions. Bannon's attorney did not respond to a message seeking comment on Friday.
This is not the first time that Bannon has faced legal peril. In August of last year, Bannon was pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested on allegations that he and three associates ripped off donors trying to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Trump pardoned Bannon in the final hours of his presidency.
Meadows, a former congressman from North Carolina, defied his subpoena after weeks of discussions with the committee. His lawyer said Meadows has a “sharp legal dispute” with the committee as Trump was asserting executive privilege Meadows' testimony, as Trump had with Bannon's.
The White House said in a letter Thursday that Biden would waive any privilege that would prevent Meadows from cooperating with the committee, prompting Meadows' lawyer to say he would not comply.
“Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts,” said the lawyer, George Terwilliger. “It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues.”
Biden has waived most of Trump's assertions of privilege over documents and interviews, citing the interest of the public in knowing what happened on Jan. 6. Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to stop the release of documents, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has repeatedly backed Biden's position, noting in one ruling this past week that “Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President.”
The committee's proceedings and attempts to gather information have been delayed while Trump appealed Chutkan's rulings. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of some of the White House records the panel is seeking, giving that court time to consider Trump's arguments.
Still, the committee is continuing its work, and members have interviewed more than 150 witnesses in an attempt to build a comprehensive record of how a violent mob of Trump's supporters broke into the Capitol and temporarily halted the certification of Biden's victory.
The committee has subpoenaed almost three dozen people, including former White House staffers, Trump allies who strategized about how to overturn his defeat and people who organized a giant rally near the White House on the morning of Jan. 6. While some, like Meadows and Bannon, have balked, several others have spoken to the panel and provided documents.
— Associated Press writers Eric Tucker, Nomaan Merchant, Zeke Miller, Farnoush Amiri and Jill Colvin in Washington and Emily Wagster Pettus in Jackson, Mississippi, contributed to this report.