US Capitol riot panel targets Steve Bannon

Mary Clare Jalonick, Eric Tucker and Lisa MascaroAP
Former Trump aide Steve Bannon has so far refused to cooperate with a probe into the US Capitol riot
Camera IconFormer Trump aide Steve Bannon has so far refused to cooperate with a probe into the US Capitol riot Credit: EPA

A congressional committee investigating the January 6 US Capitol insurrection has moved aggressively against Trump adviser Steve Bannon, swiftly scheduling a vote to recommend criminal contempt charges against the former White House aide after he defied a subpoena.

The panel will vote on Tuesday to recommend charges against Bannon, an adviser to Donald Trump for years who was in touch with the president ahead of the most serious assault on Congress in two centuries.

If approved by the Democratic-majority committee, the recommendation of criminal charges would go to the full House. Approval there would send them to the Justice Department, which has final say on prosecution.

Asked if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, President Joe Biden said yes.

"I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable," he told reporters on Friday at the White House.

A spokesman for the Justice Department, Anthony Coley, said after Biden's comments that "the Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop."

Later Friday night, White House press secretary Jen Psaki tweeted that Biden "supports the work of the committee and the independent role of the Department of Justice to make any decisions about prosecutions".

The showdown with Bannon is just one facet of a broad and escalating congressional inquiry, with 19 subpoenas issued so far and thousands of pages of documents flowing to the committee and its staff.

Challenging Bannon's defiance is a crucial step for the panel, whose members are vowing to restore the force of congressional subpoenas after they were routinely flouted during Trump's time in office.

The committee had scheduled a Thursday deposition with Bannon, but his lawyer said Trump had directed him not to produce any information protected by executive privileges afforded to a president, and Bannon wouldn't comply "until these issues are resolved".

Bannon, who was not a White House staffer on January 6, also failed to provide documents to the panel by a deadline last week.

Still, the committee could end up stymied again after years of Trump administration officials refusing to cooperate with Congress. The longtime Trump adviser similarly defied a subpoena during a GOP-led investigation into Trump's Russia ties in 2018, but the House did not hold him into contempt.

While Bannon has outright defied the January 6 committee, other Trump aides who have been subpoenaed appear to be negotiating. And other witnesses are cooperating, including some who organised or staffed the Trump rally on the Ellipse behind the White House that preceded the riot.

The rioters repeated Trump's lies of widespread fraud as they marched through the Capitol, even though the results of the election were confirmed by state officials, upheld by courts and even rejected by Trump's own attorney-general.

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