Ex-Trump aide Steve Bannon indicted for contempt of Congress

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s former political adviser, was indicted by a federal grand jury for contempt of Congress after failing to comply with a subpoena issued by the panel of lawmakers investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

According to the US justice department, Bannon was charged with failing to appear at a deposition and failing to produce documents related to the deadly riot that was intended to prevent lawmakers from certifying Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential election win.

The indictment comes as the House committee investigating the assault has increasingly demanded information and answers from members of Trump’s inner circle who were privy to the former president’s actions on and before the day of the attack. Bannon did not respond to an emailed request for comment.

Bannon was Trump’s chief political strategist during his 2016 campaign and served in the White House from January to August of 2017. The pair had a rocky relationship, and the president gradually sidelined his adviser over the course of his time in the White House.

After Trump eventually forced Bannon out in the aftermath of the 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville that left one woman dead, the two men would alternate public praise for each other with bitter feuds.

The congressional panel was interested in gathering information from Bannon related to the January 6 attack because he was involved in meetings at the Willard hotel in Washington DC in the days preceding it. During these meetings, Trump advisers tried to find ways to stop Biden from being sworn into office.

The two charges against Bannon could each lead to a fine of up to $1,000 and up to one year in jail. The justice department said a date for Bannon’s court appearance had not been set.

The January 6 congressional investigation has already issued subpoenas for other top Trump aides, including Michael Flynn, his former national security adviser, Stephen Miller, a senior adviser throughout his presidency, and Kayleigh McEnany, the former White House press secretary.

Meanwhile, Trump has mounted a legal challenge against the panel’s request for White House records related to the January 6 attack. As of Friday, that demand had been put on pause by a federal appeals court, after an earlier court ruling this week had paved the way for the National Archives to hand over the documents. Trump has asserted that those records should be protected because of executive privilege — a defence that Bannon has also raised in his refusal to comply with the subpoena.

Merrick Garland, attorney-general, said Friday’s charges reflected the justice department’s “steadfast commitment” to “equal justice under the law”.

Bannon’s charges raise memories of the 1970s Watergate scandal, when G Gordon Liddy, one of the organisers of the burglary at the Democratic National Committee that triggered the furore, was found guilty of contempt of Congress for refusing to provide information to lawmakers.

The congressional panel investigating the January 6 attack is mainly composed of Democrats, but also includes Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger, two anti-Trump Republicans who have defied their party to join the committee.

On Friday, Cheney and Bennie Thompson, the Democratic chair of the panel, said that Mark Meadows, Trump’s chief of staff, may also face charges of contempt for failing to appear for a deposition and produce documents related to the assault on America’s legislature.

“Mr Meadows’s actions today — choosing to defy the law — will force the select committee to consider pursuing contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena,” Thompson and Cheney said in a statement.

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