US Congress seeks to compel Bannon testimony in January 6 probe

House committee plans to issue a criminal referral for ‘contempt of Congress’ against top political adviser to Donald Trump.

House investigators want to question Steve Bannon, ex-President Donald Trump's former political strategist, about his role in organising the January 6 insurrection [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

A US Congress committee investigating the deadly January 6 Capitol insurrection is set to issue a criminal referral on Tuesday against a former top political adviser to ex-President Donald Trump.

The House Select Committee on January 6, composed of seven Democrats and two Republicans, is scheduled to vote on Tuesday evening to issue a referral for criminal contempt of Congress against Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who could face up to a year in prison.

Bannon has refused to comply with a legal demand by a Democrat-led committee of the House of Representatives to be interviewed and supply documents.

The action would unleash a complicated process that would require House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to certify the charge and bring it before the full House of Representatives for a vote. The referral then goes to the US Department of Justice which must decide whether to prosecute the claim against Bannon in federal court, which could take months.

Bannon told the House committee he would not sit for an interview because the former president would be asserting “executive privilege” over his contacts with the former aide.

Thousands of Trump supporters gathered in Washington, DC, on January 6 for a “Stop the Steal” rally to protest Congress certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win.

Trump supporters broke through police barriers to invade the US Capitol in Washington, DC, on January 6. A House committee tasked with investigating [File: Julio Cortez/AP Photo]

After hearing Trump claim the 2020 election results were fraudulent, supporters stormed the US Capitol, driving Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress into hiding. More than 600 have been charged related to the rioting including 185 with assaulting or impeding police, according to the FBI.

Members of the House committee have made clear they are serious about enforcing the subpoenas issued to several Trump aides and about a dozen other people involved in organising his January 6 rally.

A resolution to be voted out of the panel on Tuesday asserts that Bannon has no legal standing to rebuff the committee.

Bannon was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump and others including Republican members of Congress ahead of the attack, and Trump has not in fact asserted any privilege claims to the panel itself.

“Mr Bannon appears to have played a multi-faceted role in the events of January 6th, and the American people are entitled to hear his first-hand testimony regarding his actions,” the committee wrote.

In a statement last week, Committee chairman Representative Bennie Thompson said Bannon was “hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke”.

“We reject his position entirely,” Thompson said.

In addition to Bannon, the committee has subpoenaed former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino and national security and defence aide Kash Patel. All three are said to be cooperating with the committee.

Former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark has been subpoenaed by the committee to discuss Trump’s efforts to use the Department of Justice to overturn the 2020 election results.

Meanwhile, Trump filed a lawsuit in a US District Court on October 18 in a bid to block Congress from obtaining White House records of Trump’s conduct leading up to and on January 6.

“The former President’s clear objective is to stop the Select Committee from getting to the facts about January 6th and his lawsuit is nothing more than an attempt to delay and obstruct our probe,” the committee leaders including Republican Representative Liz Cheney said in a statement.

“Precedent and law are on our side,” they said.

Trump’s suit challenges a recent decision by Biden and the US National Archives to turn over Trump’s presidential records to the January 6 committee.

The lawsuit claims the House committee’s request was overly broad and sought records with no reasonable connection to the events of January 6.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies