January 6 committee moves to hold Bannon in criminal contempt
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Steve Bannon, the longtime adviser to ex-President Trump, is now risking criminal contempt proceedings. A House committee says they'll move forward after Bannon refused to say what he knows about the January 6 attack on the Capitol. Bannon is one of several people around the president who were subpoenaed by a House committee investigating that attack.
We begin our coverage with NPR congressional reporter Claudia Grisales. Claudia, good morning.
CLAUDIA GRISALES, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.
INSKEEP: Of the various people who have yet to testify, why does Bannon face criminal proceedings now?
GRISALES: He was clear in letters to the panel that he was taking direction from former President Trump not to cooperate because of executive privilege, this legal shield that Trump claims still protects certain records and conversations. The committee chairman, Bennie Thompson, said Bannon is hiding behind Trump's, quote, "insufficient blanket and vague claims here."
I talked to California Democrat Pete Aguilar about this. He's a member of the panel investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
PETE AGUILAR: The current occupant of the White House holds the ability to exercise executive privilege, not former presidents.
GRISALES: Also, one legal expert told me Bannon was likely the panel's strongest case for a criminal referral now and perhaps part of an overall strategy to send a message to other witnesses of the repercussions they could also face if they don't comply.
INSKEEP: What's going on with those other witnesses?
GRISALES: A committee aide told me three depositions for former Trump officials will be postponed. That's for ex-White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, former White House aide Dan Scavino and an ex-Defense Department official, Kash Patel. Both Meadows and Patel are in talks with the panel, while Scavino had a delay getting his subpoena. So we could hear more on this in the coming weeks.
INSKEEP: Does all that suggest that House members are more confident they eventually will get an agreement out of these witnesses?
GRISALES: It could because they have these ongoing conversations. There's contact there. So it signals that they're going to give these witnesses more time. But I'm also told that it may not be that much more time after all.
INSKEEP: And we're going to be talking with one of the members of that committee in just a moment, by the way. So the House has to vote on this criminal referral for Steve Bannon. Assuming the House approves that, it goes on to the Justice Department, where the prosecutors are. What happens then?
GRISALES: I talked to one legal expert about this next step, Daniel Goldman. He's a former House impeachment lawyer. He said it's, quote, "exceedingly rare for DOJ to take a case like this all the way to contempt of Congress charges. And this could involve the highest levels of the department."
DANIEL GOLDMAN: Ultimately, this is going to rest on the Department of Justice and whether they're willing to use their authority to enforce these subpoenas.
GRISALES: So it's possible we could see Attorney General Merrick Garland play a role here. And the department will have to decide whether to initiate an investigation and ultimately whether to charge Bannon with a crime of contempt of Congress, which is punishable by fines or jail time.
INSKEEP: I'm recalling that when Donald Trump was president, his administration often ignored or resisted subpoenas and managed to drag things out for years. Could that happen here?
GRISALES: Yes. That's what I talked to experts like Goldman about, and he doubts it. That's why they took this criminal contempt route, he and others contend, because they can speed up the process a lot faster. We saw this with the case of former White House counsel Don McGahn. And in that case, Goldman said, you win for lose because you drag it out for years. But this could be sped up and wrapped up in a matter of months.
INSKEEP: Claudia, thanks so much.
GRISALES: Thank you.
INSKEEP: NPR's Claudia Grisales.
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