Steve Bannon, the former Breitbart executive chairman and who served as White House Strategist for the first months of the Trump presidency, has surrendered himself to federal authorities after being indicted by a federal grand jury last week for contempt of Congress due to Bannon’s failure to testify and deliver documents to the House Select Committee investigating the January 6th riot.
The former strategist turned himself in the Washington D.C. headquarters of the FBI, send a message to his supports by telling a group of reporters “we’re taking down the Biden regime” and that “I want you guys to stay focused and stay on message.”
Last week, Department of Justice issued a press release informing that Bannon has been charged with two counts of obstruction of Congress, one for failing to testify and the other for not submitting the documents that were subpoenaed by Congress. Each count could potentially ring up to one year of prison time, it is important to clarify that an indictment is not the same thing as a conviction, and Bannon is presumed to be innocent until a court of law says otherwise.
The indictment came almost a month after the House January 6th Committee voted unanimously to hold Mr. Bannon and send the issue to the Department of Justice. The Committee was formed earlier this year, with mostly Democrat support, and was looking into Bannon’s alleged involvement.
At the time he was referred to the Department of Justice for his dismissal of the Congressional subpoena, the legal team of Mr. Bannon argued that he could not testify in the Select Committee due to a claim of executive privilege that has been asserted by former President Trump.
Executive privilege is a legal term used to explain the powers of the President to withhold certain confidential information to the legislative or judicial branches. The question before the courts now is if former presidents still enjoy executive power once they have left office.
Steve Bannon’s indictment is the first in decades
The decision to indict Bannon comes the same day that the former White House Chief of Staff, Mark Meadows, decided not to testify before the House Select Committee. Meadow’s defense team has argued that there are several legal disputes over the testimony, which is why it would be “irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues”.
Whether the House votes or not in favor of a resolution of contempt of Congress against meadows and if a Grand Jury would also indict Meadows for it remains to be seen. Meadows, unlike Bannon, was actively working as part of the Executive Branch during the time of the January 6th riot.
Bannon’s indictment would present the first time the Department of Justice pursues a case of this type in decades. In 2014, the House voted to hold former IRS director Lois Lerner in contempt due to her refusal to testify before a House Committee over the allegations that the Internal Revenue Service had been targeting conservative organizations on purpose. However, the Obama Department of Justice refused to pursue legal action against Lerner arguing that she did nothing wrong by refusing to testify before Congress.
In 2019, the House of Representatives also voted to hold then-Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for contempt of Congress after they refused to testify over a controversy over citizenship question in the 2020 census, the Department of Justice also refused to pursue this claim that year.
The questions over Bannon and Meadow testifying before Congress are not the only legal challenges around the work of the House January 6th Committee, with former president Trump claiming that he has executive privilege over White House records requested by the Commission. While initially, the courts denied Trump’s request, the DC Court of Appeals granted the former President a request to temporarily pause the release of the records until lower courts resolve the issue of Executive privilege.