Ex-Trump aide Bannon indicted for contempt of Congress

Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., arrive as the House select committee tasked with investigating the Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol meets to hold Steve Bannon, one of former President Donald Trump's allies in contempt, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Oct 19, 2021. (J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE / AP)

WASHINGTON – A US federal grand jury has indicted Steve Bannon, onetime adviser to former president Donald Trump, charging him with contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena by the House select committee investigating the Jan 6 Capitol riot, the Justice Department announced Friday.

The indictment came as Attorney General Merrick Garland has been under pressure to prosecute Bannon after the House voted on Oct 27 to hold the former chief strategist of Trump in criminal contempt of Congress and referred the resolution to the Justice Department.

READ MORE: Bannon held in criminal contempt of congress for defying subpoenas

"Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law," Garland said in a statement. "Today's charges reflect the department's steadfast commitment to these principles."

Steve Bannon's lawyer, Robert Costello, told the committee his client would not cooperate with the investigation because he had been so directed by Trump, who claimed the documents and testimony being sought were potentially protected by presidential executive privilege

Bannon's indictment contained two charges of contempt of Congress, according to the Justice Department, "one contempt count involving his refusal to appear for a deposition and another involving his refusal to produce documents, despite a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol."

Each count of contempt of Congress carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000, the department said, adding a federal district court judge will determine any sentence for the 67-year-old Trump loyalist.

The House Jan 6 committee subpoenaed documents and testimony from Bannon on Sept 23. He missed both the Oct 7 deadline for documents production and the Oct 14 deadline for deposition.

Bannon's lawyer, Robert Costello, told the committee his client would not cooperate with the investigation because he had been so directed by Trump, who claimed the documents and testimony being sought were potentially protected by presidential executive privilege.

Costello told the committee that "the executive privileges belong to President Trump" and "we must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege."

President Joe Biden has refused to assert executive privilege with respect to witnesses and documents, citing the extraordinary nature of the attack on Capitol Hill on Jan 6 to stop Congress from certifying the result of the 2020 presidential election.

ALSO READ: Trump allies subpoenaed in Congress' probe of Capitol riot

In seeking documents and deposition from Bannon, the Jan 6 committee said in the subpoena that Bannon spoke with Trump in the run-up to Jan 6, that he was present at a hotel in downtown DC used by the Trump team as a command center as the attack unfolded, and that he said on his radio podcast one day prior to the attack that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow."

The select committee has so far issued subpoenas to 21 former officials in the Trump administration for documents, testimony — or both — related to their involvement in the Capitol riot.

Also subpoenaed by the panel, Trump's then chief of staff Mark Meadows didn't appear for his deposition scheduled for Friday at 10 am ET, risking the invocation of the contempt of Congress procedure by the select committee as it so warned Meadows on Thursday night.

Contempt of Congress prosecutions by the Justice Department often have been both time consuming and notoriously difficult to succeed, oftentimes ending in acquittal or dismissal on appeal.

The last time the department prosecuted a contempt referral was in 1983, during the Superfund investigation in the Ronald Reagan administration. Then Environmental Protection Agency official Rita Lavelle was charged with contempt but her case ended in acquittal.