The US Department of Justice (DOJ) could soon make a decision on whether to pursue criminal charges against former Trump White House strategist Stephen Bannon over his decision to defy a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
The law allows for Congress to refer a noncompliant witness to the DOJ for criminal prosecution, which could result in jail time, a fine or both, and the House committee has said it will refer Bannon for criminal prosecution by the (DOJ) if he doesn’t appear for a deposition slated for Thursday.
However, as noted by The Hill, “such a move would place Attorney General Merrick Garland in the center of a debate over whether to go after a former right-hand man of Donald Trump after vowing to restore the reputation of a department that was deeply politicized under the prior administration.”
The Trump administration has a long history of defying congressional investigators, and Bannon, through his lawyer, said he would disregard the subpoena until a yet-to-be-filed legal case from Trump resolved whether the former president can rely on executive privilege to bar his ex-employees from testifying before lawmakers.
“We will comply with the direction of the courts,” Robert Costello, Bannon’s attorney, wrote in the letter.
Bannon is being sought for questioning surrounding his role in planning rallies on Jan. 6 — activity that came years after his brief stint as a White House adviser.
According to legal experts, Trump cannot claim executive privilege, as the protection only applies to sitting presidents.
Barbara McQuade, who served as a U.S. attorney during the Obama administration, said the referral provides the DOJ the opportunity to be an important accountability check on those in Trump’s orbit.
“There are a number of things prosecutors have to think about. One is, what is the deterrent effect of bringing a case here in light of the history of the Trump administration, allies and others thumbing their noses at congressional subpoenas and stalling? There’s a compelling case here for bringing criminal charges,” she said.
The DOJ did not respond to a request for comment.