The House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol voted Tuesday to advance a measure to refer former Trump adviser Steve Bannon to the Justice Department for criminal charges of contempt of Congress for refusing to cooperate with its investigation.
The committee voted 9-0. The recommendation is expected to go before the full House for a vote. The committee comprises seven Democrats and two Republicans, who are participating without the approval of their leadership.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said the full House will take up the vote Thursday.
If it passes the House, a criminal referral would be sent to the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C., which would decide whether to press charges. A conviction could mean a year in jail and a fine of up to $100,000. In the past, no criminal charges have ever been filed when an assertion of executive privilege is involved, according to legal scholars.
The committee's chair, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said in his opening remarks that it was "shocking" that Bannon refused to cooperate.
"So it's a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position. But we won't take 'no' for an answer," he said. "We believe Mr. Bannon has information relevant to our probe, and we'll use the tools at our disposal to get that information. I expect that the House will quickly adopt this referral to the Justice Department and that the U.S. attorney will do his duty and prosecute Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress."
He added, "Our goal is simple: We want Mr. Bannon to answer our questions. We want him to turn over whatever records he possesses that are relevant to the select committee's investigation. The issue in front of us today is our ability to do our job. "
Bannon refused to comply this month with a committee subpoena demanding that he testify and hand over relevant documents about the riot and the effort to delay the electoral vote count, citing former President Donald Trump's attempt to claim "executive and other privileges."
Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., also criticized Bannon in her opening remarks, saying he has "no legal right" to ignore the subpoena. She called on Republican lawmakers to support the work of the panel, invoking a list of conspiracy theories that prompted many in the pro-Trump mob to storm the Capitol.
"Almost all of you know in your hearts that what happened on January 6th was profoundly wrong," she said. "You know that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud sufficient to overturn the election. You know that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know those claims are false. Yet President Trump repeats them almost daily."
She added, "All of us who are elected officials must do our duty to prevent the dismantling of the rule of law and to ensure nothing like that dark day in January ever happens again."
Thompson said last week that the panel "will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas" and that it would initiate contempt proceedings against Bannon.
On Monday, Bannon's attorney Robert Costello requested a one-week delay in the vote because Trump has sued the committee to block it from getting White House documents from the National Archives. Thompson refused the request Tuesday, saying it was "immaterial" because Bannon is not involved in the suit.
A report by the Jan. 6 committee on Bannon's actions noted that Trump fired Bannon from the White House in 2017 and that he was a private citizen when he was consulting with Trump and others in his circle in the run-up to the assault on the Capitol.
The report cited a Supreme Court ruling that executive privilege "belongs to the Government and must be asserted by it; it can neither be claimed nor waived by a private party." It also noted that Bannon refused to offer any testimony or documents at all, not just information about matters directly relating to Trump.
"Mr. Bannon's refusal to comply with the Select Committee's subpoena in any way represents willful default under the law and warrants contempt of Congress and referral to the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia for prosecution as prescribed by law. The denial of the information sought by the subpoena impairs Congress's central powers under the United States Constitution," the report says.
The panel said there is evidence that Bannon "had specific knowledge about the events planned for January 6th before they occurred" and pointed to comments he made on his podcast the day before the riot.
"It's not going to happen like you think it's going to happen. OK, it's going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is strap in," Bannon said. "All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. ... So many people said, 'Man, if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.' Well, this is your time in history."