Stephen Bannon, a prominent adviser to former US President Donald Trump, has been charged with criminal contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena issued by a committee investigating the Capitol riots.
Mr Bannon has refused to cooperate with the House of Representatives select committee seeking testimony and documents from him, citing Mr Trump’s insistence – already rejected by one judge – that he has a right to keep the requested material confidential under a legal doctrine called executive privilege.
Mr Bannon, 67, was charged with one count of contempt of Congress for refusing to appear for a deposition – a sworn out-of-court testimony – and a second count for refusing to produce documents, the Justice Department said on Friday.
Contempt of Congress is punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $100,000.
Justice Department spokesperson Bill Miller said Mr Bannon is “expected to self-surrender” on Monday in Washington DC and make his first court appearance in the case that afternoon.
Steve Bannon was charged with contempt of Congress (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Mr Trump has sought to stonewall the committee, which is scrutinising his actions in relation to the deadly Capitol riots on 6 January this year, and directed his former associates not to cooperate.
The charges against Mr Bannon may bolster the committee’s efforts to secure testimony and documents from other Trump associates, who have defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows defied his own subpoena by refusing to appear for a deposition before the committee on Friday, risking also being found in contempt of Congress.
As a top adviser to Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, Mr Bannon helped articulate the “America First” right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that helped define Mr Trump’s presidency.
Mr Bannon, who also served as White House chief strategist, continued to offer Mr Trump advice after leaving his post in 2017.
He is a prominent figure in right-wing media circles and previously headed the Breitbart News website.
“Steve Bannon’s indictment should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the select committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law,” said Democrat Bennie Thompson and Republican Liz Cheney, the leaders of the committee, in a statement.
It is the second time in 15 months that Mr Bannon has faced criminal charges.
In August last year, he was pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested and charged on allegations that he and three associates ripped off donors trying to fund Mr Trump’s wall project along the US-Mexican border.
Mr Trump later pardoned him before the case could go to trial, in the final hours of his presidency.
On 6 January, a mob of Mr Trump’s supporters rioted at the Capitol in a failed bid to prevent formal congressional certification of President Joe Biden’s election victory.
Before the riot, Mr Trump gave a speech to his supporters repeating his false claims that the election was stolen from him and urged them to go to the Capitol and “fight like hell” to “stop the steal”.
The committee has said Mr Bannon made public statements suggesting he knew in advance about “extreme events” that would occur on 6 January, and the day before he said on a podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”.
Criminal charges for contempt are exceedingly rare. The most recent notable examples of criminal penalties for not testifying before Congress date to the 1970s, including when President Richard Nixon’s aide G. Gordon Liddy was convicted for refusing to answer questions about his role in the Watergate scandal.
He was handed a six-month suspended sentence and one year’s probation, the New York Times reported.