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Bannon contempt vote threatens to erode congressional investigative power

Todd Ruger, CQ-Roll Call on

Published in Political News

WASHINGTON — The House is poised to split along partisan lines Thursday on whether to seek criminal charges against a private citizen for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena, an outcome that threatens to further erode the investigative power of lawmakers from both parties.

Republicans and Democrats have not shown much if any unity over the past decade on votes to hold executive branch officials in contempt of Congress. But the vote on Stephen Bannon in connection with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol extends that partisan divide to those outside government as well. Although Bannon was a onetime White House adviser to President Donald Trump, his actions after leaving government service are at issue for the panel.

Republicans are expected to overwhelmingly oppose the panel’s move to utilize one of Congress’ most powerful tools — a recommendation that the Justice Department seek an indictment of Bannon on a charge that brings the possibility of up to a year in prison and a fine.

Former Virginia Republican Rep. Tom Davis, a chairman of the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform from 2003 to 2007, said Congress might come out of this Bannon contempt vote looking even weaker.

“Bannon, if you let him go, what about the Exxon CEO?” Davis said, raising a hypothetical. “I mean, what happens to the next person who’s not in government who gets a subpoena? You hold them in contempt, but nothing happens.”

Davis said Republicans’ opposition now could boomerang if they retake the House majority and want to conduct oversight of the Biden administration. “Should the Republicans take the House and start issuing subpoenas to Biden officials or even Biden sympathizers who aren’t officials, will they enforce those subpoenas?” Davis said.

 

Members of the Jan. 6 committee from both parties raised similar concerns about the greater power of the House ahead of Thursday’s vote. Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello, told the panel Bannon is unable to comply with the subpoena until Trump’s executive privilege claims regarding information the panel is seeking are resolved. Bannon left the White House in 2017.

Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., said at a Rules Committee hearing Wednesday that the House “cannot let this conduct stand.”

“It would send a signal that Mr. Bannon can act like he’s above the law and get away with it,” Thompson said. “And it would damage this institution, the House of Representatives, by setting a dangerous precedent, giving witnesses a green light to ignore our investigative authority.”

Wyoming Republican Rep. Liz Cheney said Bannon is using privilege as a pretext for not appearing at all and for producing absolutely no documents of any kind.

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