The full House voted Thursday largely along party lines to recommend criminal charges against Steve Bannon, a onetime aide to former President Donald Trump who is suspected to have played a role in the deadly Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The vote, 229-202, moves Bannon closer to paying penalties ― possible imprisonment for up to one year and a $100,000 fine ― over his repeated refusal to cooperate with the House select committee investigating the underlying causes and principal instigators of the attack. Nine Republicans joined every single House Democrat to vote in favor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is now expected to formally refer the matter to the office of the U.S. attorney for Washington, D.C., who will decide how to proceed.
Democrats, joined by Republican Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.) and Adam Kinzinger (Ill.) — the only two Republicans on the nine-member Jan. 6 select committee — argued on the floor Thursday afternoon that the House needs to be able to pinpoint what went wrong that day in order to make policy recommendations to prevent a similar catastrophe in the future.
Republicans in the House accused the other side of not having the authority to force Bannon to speak with the committee and generally downplayed the violence seen during the attack, which led to several deaths.
In her remarks, Cheney noted Thursday that some of her colleagues “seem to have forgotten the danger of the moment, the assault on the Constitution, the assault on our Congress.”
Bannon encouraged his podcast audience to attend Trump’s planned rally, held to object to the formal certification of President Joe Biden’s electoral win, and hinted that he had advance knowledge of the violence that would take place that day. On his podcast just one day before the rally, Bannon said, “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen.”
“It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. All I can say is, strap in,” Bannon said on Jan. 5 during his show. “You made this happen, and tomorrow it’s game day. So strap in. Let’s get ready.”
The select committee issued Bannon a subpoena in September demanding that he turn over records of his communications with the Trump White House, along with other documentation from around the time of the Capitol riot. Bannon was also ordered to appear before the committee on Oct. 14.
He failed to comply with both requests.
Through his attorney, Bannon asserted that he does not have the right to respond to the subpoena because Trump indicated that he was ready to fight the committee’s efforts to obtain documentation from Jan. 6.
Trump has repeatedly sought to recast the violent rioting as a harmless political demonstration; in a statement Thursday, the former president called Jan. 6 “the Protest” of the “insurrection” that was Biden’s victory last fall.
Trump filed suit against the committee on Monday, accusing its members of conducting an “illegal fishing expedition.” He claimed the documentation is protected under executive privilege, the hazily defined concept that presidents have the right to shield information from the public if it could hurt the institution of the presidency.
Committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice-chair Cheney called Trump’s suit “nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our probe.”
Bannon was not serving in any official capacity around the time of the attack, and he had not done so for years ― Bannon was a senior adviser to Trump for seven months ending in August 2017. That is one of the reasons legal experts have said his claim to executive privilege falls flat.
Both Thompson and Cheney dismissed Bannon’s argument directly on Wednesday.
“The law is clear that even top White House aides who advise the president on official government matters are not immune from compelled congressional process,” Thompson said while addressing the House Rules committee, which approved the terms for Thursday’s vote.
Cheney, one of just two Republicans on the committee, said that Bannon was using Trump’s claim of executive privilege “as a pretext for not appearing at all and for producing absolutely no documents of any kind.”
She then addressed her GOP colleagues.
“I urge you to do what you know is right ― to think of the long arc of history,” Cheney said. “We are told that it bends towards justice, but it does so only because of the actions of men and women in positions of public trust. In many nations, democracy has failed because those with authority would not act to protect it because they sat in silence.”
“History will judge those of us in positions of public trust,” she said.