A federal grand jury has indicted former Trump aide Steve Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress, the Justice Department announced Friday.
The indictment comes three weeks after the House of Representatives voted to hold Bannon in contempt for failing to cooperate with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol by supporters of then-President Donald Trump.
Bannon, who served as Trump’s chief strategist during the 2016 campaign and then worked in the White House for several months, is one of several Trump associates who have been called on by the committee to provide testimony and documents regarding the former president’s actions leading up to and during the violent insurrection.
“Since my first day in office, I have promised Justice Department employees that together we would show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement Friday. “Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.”
Bannon was charged in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia with two criminal counts stemming from his failure to comply with the select committee’s subpoena, one for refusing to appear for a deposition and the other for refusing to produce requested documents. According to a press release from the Justice Department, a date has not yet been set for Bannon’s arraignment in the D.C. federal court. Each count carries a minimum potential sentence of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000.
According to CNN, prosecutors presented a federal magistrate with an indictment and arrest warrant for Bannon on Friday afternoon. He was expected to surrender on Monday and appear for arraignment then, NBC News reported.
Bannon is the first person to face criminal charges for refusing to cooperate with the Jan. 6 probe, and his indictment is likely to be seen as a warning to others. Trump has sought to stonewall the investigation by claiming executive privilege over the information sought by the committee, both in the form of witness testimony from former White House officials and outside aides, and a variety of documents including White House call logs, schedules and records of Trump’s meetings during his final days in office.
The indictment indicates that the Justice Department is confident it can argue a compelling case in front of a jury. The decision to indict Bannon is not without risk. If he is found not guilty by a jury, that might send a message to other former Trump aides and associates that there is little peril in refusing to cooperate with the congressional probe.
There were legitimate legal questions surrounding Bannon’s defiance that required the Justice Department to proceed carefully before charging ahead with an indictment.
But on the other hand, until the department actually enforced the congressional subpoena and moved toward a criminal trial, other potential witnesses were likely watching and waiting to see how things unfolded.
Now that the Justice Department has shown a willingness to indict Bannon, the stakes of noncompliance are suddenly much higher for everyone who has been subpoenaed. And that number is now up to 35, a committee spokesman told Yahoo News.
Foremost among those figures is Trump’s former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who continues to defy his own subpoena.
The committee is now moving toward voting to issue a criminal referral for him to the Justice Department as well, the committee’s co-chairs — Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo. — said Friday. “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,” they said in a statement.
“Mr. Meadows has failed to answer even the most basic questions, including whether he was using a private cell phone to communicate on January 6th, and where his text messages from that day are,” they said.
But the ripple effect will go much further than Meadows. While the committee has spoken to over 150 people who are cooperating, there are a number of high-profile Trump allies who are likely inclined not to cooperate, such as former policy adviser Stephen Miller. Any midlevel aide now also has to consider a request for testimony or a subpoena in a new light.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the Jan. 6 committee, wrote on Twitter that “the Grand Jury indictment of Steve Bannon shows that even the insurrectionist allies of Donald Trump are not above the law and the American justice system is back in business.”
“Violate Congressional subpoenas and court orders at your own risk,” Raskin wrote.