“The notion that you can withhold information and documents from Congress no matter whether you are the party in power or not in power is wrong. Respect for the rule of law must mean something, irrespective of the vicissitudes of political cycles.” — Trey Gowdy, former chair, U.S. House Oversight Committee.
When former President Trump tried to block the release of White House documents to the House committee investigating the deadly January 6 insurrection, a judge reminded him that presidents are not kings, Trump is not President, and presidential executive privilege exists for the benefit of the Republic, not any individual.
Now former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, who escaped justice on mail fraud and money laundering thanks to a pardon from his old boss, is trying to use Trump’s non-existent privilege to excuse his own flouting of the law.
Bannon was indicted by a federal grand jury on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress after ignoring the committee’s subpoenas. His defense, that he was heeding legal advice that he respect Trump’s baseless claims of executive privilege, is ludicrous and outrageous.
Even if the former president were entitled to executive privilege – and, again, he is not – it would not apply to his communications with Bannon, who left the White House in 2017.
Furthermore, even if privilege did apply to those communications, ignoring a duly-issued Congressional subpoena for more than seven weeks is not the way to invoke it.
As legal experts Norman Eisen, Joanna Lydgate, and Joshua Perry wrote in a CNN op-ed:
“A person who wants to invoke a legitimate privilege in good faith doesn’t simply ignore a subpoena. He responds on time, and he negotiates. He turns over all relevant documents that aren’t covered by the privilege, and produces a privilege log indicating which documents he isn’t turning over and why. He doesn’t simply skip out on a scheduled deposition. He shows up, answers when he can, and invokes the privilege on a question-by-question basis.”
He faces a minimum sentence of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail and fines ranging from $100 to $100,000 on each count of contempt of Congress.
Bannon made no secret of his treasonous intent when he surrendered to the FBI, saying, “We’re taking down the Biden regime.”
The others who have been ordered to ignore the Committee’s subpoenas – former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, former deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino, former Defense Department Chief of Staff Kash Patel, and former Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Clark, must decide whether their loyalty lies with the United States of America, or with their disgraced former boss.
Trump’s Congressional allies already have declared their contempt for the rule of law, as Politico reported, “strongly signaling that a future GOP-led House would use the threat of criminal prosecution to extract testimony from Biden’s aides.”
What exactly did they think they were doing when they issued more than 100 Congressional subpoenas to President Obama’s administration? Every one of those subpoenas – like every subpoena – carries the threat of criminal prosecution if it is ignored.
Congress has not just the authority but a duty to conduct oversight of the President and his administration. Some of the very same members feigning outrage over the January 6th Committee’s investigation were perfectly content to exercise the very same subpoena power they now decry.
Unlike many of the Congressional investigations conducted during the Obama era – some of which even Republican members admitted were purely political – the U.S. House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol is focused on the gravest threat to the republic in modern history. Those who attacked the Capitol sought to overturn an election through terrorism and violence, in defiance of the Constitution and every principle we, as Americans, hold dear.
Though law enforcement quelled the mob on January 6, the attack on the nation rages on through those who defy the Committee’s duly-issued subpoenas and seek to sabotage their investigation.
“It’s unfortunate that Mr. Meadows has chosen to join a very small group of witnesses who believe they are above the law and are defying a Select Committee subpoena outright,” Committee Chair Bennie G. Thompson and Vice Chair Liz Cheney said in a statement. “Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail in stopping the Select Committee’s effort getting answers for the American people about January 6th, making legislative recommendations to help protect our democracy, and helping ensure nothing like that day ever happens again.”