Why the Jan. 6 panel is pursuing a contempt vote for Steve Bannon

The special congressional committee investigating the January assault on the U.S. Capitol meets Tuesday to consider whether to recommend charging Steve Bannon with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena and sit for a deposition. Ambassador Norman Eisen, who was a counsel to the House Judiciary Committee for the first Trump impeachment, joins Judy Woodruff with more.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    The special congressional committee investigating the January assault on the U.S. Capitol meets tonight in the battle over how much cooperation they will get from allies of former President Donald Trump.

    This evening, they are expected to recommend charging Steve Bannon with contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena demanding that he turn over documents to the committee and sit for a deposition.

    Ambassador Norm Eisen previously worked on the investigations that preceded Mr. Trump's first impeachment as a counsel to the House Judiciary Committee. He is now with the Brookings Institution.

    Norm Eisen, thank you very much, and welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    First of all, what is your understanding of why this special congressional committee wants to hear from Steve Bannon?

    Norm Eisen, Former Special Counsel to President Obama,: Judy, thanks for having me back.

    We know that Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's longtime adviser for a time in the White House, estranged, then consulting again, was intimately involved with Donald Trump's decision to, in my view, incite an insurrection on January 6, 2021.

    Bannon is the one who called him and told him Trump had to get back to Washington for this. There's been reporting that Bannon has partially corroborated that he spoke about killing the Biden presidency in the crib, Judy. And we know that he used very strong language on his podcast about what was going to happen on January 6.

    So, for all those reasons, Bannon's fingerprints are on the events of January 6, and he is a critically important witness in his own right, but also to understand the insurrectionist in chief, Donald Trump.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, at this point, it's our understanding that Steve Bannon is not cooperating. The committee has asked him for information. They have asked him to come testify. They want to depose him.

    What recourse does the committee have?

  • Norm Eisen:

    In a situation like this one, the committee can utilize two principal avenues.

    They can do civil contempt, vote civil contempt, which, on approval of the House, allows them to go to court to compel Bannon's testimony and documents, or — and this is the court — the course that they seem to be electing, Judy — they can do criminal contempt, which, under federal law, the committee and then the full House will make a referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia and, in consultation with the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney will decide whether to prosecute Bannon criminally for refusing a lawful subpoena.

    And based on the facts and the laws, as we know them here, Bannon richly deserves to be prosecuted for criminal contempt.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Based on what we know and based on precedent, what do you believe the likelihood is that the court would give the go-ahead?

  • Norm Eisen:

    Well, in the first instance, of course, it will be for the U.S. attorney and DOJ to decide.

    I think it is likely that they will seek to prosecute Bannon. The bases that he gives for refusing to comply with a lawful subpoena of the United States Congress are makeweights. He says that the information that is sought is executive-privileged, in other words, it's protected by law because it has to do with the inner workings of the government.

    But, Judy, that decision is made by the current president. It's Joe Biden, not Donald Trump. And, moreover, when Bannon had these conversations with Trump, it had been years since Bannon was a part of the government, and inciting an insurrection is not a government function that gets executive privilege basis.

    The Biden administration has made clear that it's not countenancing these kind of executive privilege claims. So those arguments just don't hold water. He must comply, or he should be prosecuted.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I hear what you're saying, and yet we both know that Steve Bannon is likely to fight this to the fullest extent of the law in every way that he can.

    We know that President Trump, former President Trump is already doing everything he can legally to try to stop any cooperation by people who advised him. So, if we try to understand where this is headed, and we know it could be in any one of a number of places, what do you think?

    I mean, what do you think we are looking at here?

  • Norm Eisen:

    Well, we're looking at a continuation of Donald Trump's campaign of obstruction, one that is enabled by his cronies like Steve Bannon.

    It's something that worked when he was in the White House. It effectuated delay. What does Donald Trump have to hide? What are he and Bannon and the others in Trump's coterie so afraid of coming out if they honor these subpoenas?

    There's still much more to learn about January 6. And that's important for the truth of the historical record. It's important for Congress legislating to make sure that we don't have another January 6.

    But, unfortunately, the Donald Trump big lie campaign continues, so it's also important to counteract the ongoing lies that stimulate these terrible actions, like the January 6 insurrection.

    We're looking at a clash now between the Trump style of governance and getting to the truth. I think truth will win.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    We will watch and see. No guarantee at this point, but tonight…

  • Norm Eisen:

    No, no guarantees.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    … tonight, an important vote by this committee.

    Norm Eisen, thank you very much.

  • Norm Eisen:

    Thank you, Judy.

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