A federal grand jury returned an indictment against former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress, the Justice Department announced on Friday.
The grand jury determines whether there is “probable cause” to believe that an individual has committed a crime and should be brought to trial. In the case of 67-year-old Bannon, there are allegations that he refused to appear at a deposition and that he did not present documents.
Each charge carries penalties from 30 days to one year in prison, according to the US Department of Justice.
US Attorney General Merrick Garland has been under pressure to indict Bannon since the grand jury decided to refer Trump’s ally to the Department of Justice in contempt on Oct. 21.
“From my first day on the job, I promised Justice Department officials that together we would show the American people, by word and deed, that the Department upholds the rule of law and follows facts and law,” said Garland.
But critics of the process say the Jan. 6 Committee, formed to investigate the invasion of the capitol, has no authority to demand the cooperation of former White House and Trump administration officials.
This Friday, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows did not appear for a deposition, sources familiar with the investigation told the CNN, creating a confrontation that could lead the group to initiate a criminal referral process against him.
And last week, former Trump Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, who had been subpoenaed, appeared before the committee but refused to answer questions.
In early October, the committee ordered Bannon to testify and deliver documents.
Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello, told the committee that Trump’s ally would not cooperate in the investigation because he had been instructed in that way by the former US president.
The lawyer also defended Trump’s right not to present documents or testify. According to Costello, “executive privileges belong to President Trump” and “we must accept his decision” not to contribute to the investigation.
Already during the Biden administration, the White House refused to claim executive privilege in relation to documents and testimony related to the invasion of the capitol, citing the extraordinary nature of the fact to try to open the confidentiality of information.
The White House attorney’s office has written to Bannon’s attorney that it will not support the denials of Trump’s allies.
In seeking Bannon’s cooperation, the committee pointed to reports that Trump’s former adviser spoke with the former president in preparation for the riot on Capitol Hill, and that he was present in the so-called “war room” of Trump’s allies on Willard Hotel in Washington while the attack was taking place.
“In summary, Mr. Bannon appears to have played a multifaceted role in the events of January 6, and the American people have a right to hear his firsthand testimony of his actions,” the committee said in its report, presenting a resolution of contempt against Bannon.
Legal experts also expressed skepticism about possible punishment of Bannon, as he was not working for the government during the period examined by the committee.
Any criminal prosecution against Bannon could take years to proceed, and even if the prosecution is filed, there is no certainty that Bannon would be found guilty.
Historically, cases of possible contempt of Congress are dismantled by juries sympathetic to defendants or by defendants’ appeals.
Bannon’s case is likely to raise new legal questions about executive privilege and the House’s ability to enforce its subpoenas in cases like this.
The House has pinned its hopes on Bannon’s indictment, trying to make the case an example of the possible consequences for uncooperative witnesses.
For Rep. Jamie Raskin, a member of the Maryland Democratic Select Committee, the investigation “is an open and closed case,” the congressman told CNN earlier this month.
“We think this is an initial test of whether our democracy is recovering,” he told CNN Representative Adam Schiff, another committee member and California Democrat.
Zachary Cohen, Tierney Sneed and Dan Berman contributed to this report.
(Translated text. Read the original here.)
Reference: CNN Brasil