Bannon deserves jail for contempt, and it would be a useful example to Trump

St. Louis Post-Dispatch editorial board (TNS)

Of all the ominous trends that have been normalized in the Trump era, nose-thumbing at congressional subpoenas is among the most disturbing. Congressional subpoena power is there for a reason, and ignoring such orders to provide records or testimony undermines not just the investigation at hand but the very concept of separate branches of government with sovereign authority.

Federal prosecutors are now urging a court to make Donald Trump’s former presidential adviser, Steve Bannon, the first person in more than half a century to do time for contempt of Congress for his refusal to provide information related to the House investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection. It’s difficult to think of a better figure to make an example of. And with Trump himself now under subpoena, it would be a timely example, indeed.

Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon arrives at the Federal District Court House for the fifth day of his contempt of Congress trial on July 22, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/TNS)

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During Trump’s time in office, as in the almost two years since, he has consistently shown that he not only believes himself to be above the law but also that he thinks he can extend that shield over others of his choosing. During various congressional probes during his presidency, including urgent investigations into the administration’s handling of the pandemic, Trump instructed underlings to ignore congressional subpoenas, invoking iffy claims of executive privilege. If that justification was weak while he was president, it’s nonexistent now — yet Trump’s former underlings and allies continue to invoke that and other lame excuses for simply ignoring legally issued subpoenas from Congress.

Bannon was a major factor in whipping up Trump loyalists before the insurrection, participating in a meeting at Washington’s Willard Hotel at which plans to overturn the 2020 election were discussed, and saying publicly that “all hell” was going to break loose when Congress met on Jan. 6 to certify the results. That and Bannon’s significant place in Trump’s inner circle made it not merely understandable but necessary that the House select committee investigating the attack would subpoena him.

Bannon’s defiant refusal to comply, effectively putting loyalty to Trump over adherence to the law, could not be ignored, which is why the Justice Department sought and won a contempt conviction against him. U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols will decide the sentence on Friday. Prosecutors are asking for the maximum of six months incarceration and a $200,000 fine. They argue that Bannon “exacerbated” the assault “by flouting the Select Committee’s subpoena and its authority.”

There’s virtually no debate about that. And Bannon’s defense that he is protected by executive privilege extended by a former president whose administration Bannon left five years ago is legalistic gobbledygook. As Trump ponders whether he will himself ignore the committee’s subpoena, the sight of one of his closest cronies doing the perp walk might prove a useful incentive to get the former president to finally begin showing some respect for the rule of law.