(WASHINGTON) — Former President Donald Trump’s political ally Steve Bannon on Monday surrendered to the FBI on charges of criminal contempt of Congress stemming from his refusal to cooperate with the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Bannon on Friday was charged with two counts of contempt for failure to comply with a committee subpoena to produce any records and testify about what he knew about the assault.
He was expected to be arraigned on the charges later Monday.
His attorney has claimed in repeated letters to the committee that Bannon’s communications with Trump were privileged.
The indictment sets off what will likely be a contentious legal battle with significant ramifications for the Jan. 6 committee as it seeks to compel other witnesses to testify about the events leading up to the attempted insurrection, including any communications they may have had with Trump.
“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,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland after the department charged Bannon on Friday.
He added the “charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles.”
Executive privilege, according to the Cornell Legal Institute, “is the power of the President and other officials in the executive branch to withhold certain forms of confidential communication from the courts and the legislative branch. When executive privilege is invoked in litigation, the court should weigh its applicability by balancing competing interests.”
Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows has also been in the committee’s crosshairs after he defied the committee’s subpoena last week to testify about what his version of events were on Jan. 6 — citing similar executive privilege claims.
“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,” Reps. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said in a statement.
Meadow’s lawyer, George J. Terwilliger III said he was “surprised and disappointed” that the Biden Justice Department rejected the former chief of staff’s claims of executive privilege, in a Washington Post op-ed over the weekend.
“Under Supreme Court precedent, President Donald Trump also has a voice to be heard on claims of executive privilege arising from his tenure, and he has instructed Meadows to maintain the privilege. My client thus finds himself caught between two rocks (Congress and the Biden administration) and a hard place (instructions from the president he served.),” Terwilliger wrote.
“Moreover, [Meadows] knows from experience how critical it is for senior aides to be able to communicate freely with the president — and how dangerous a precedent he would set for presidents of both parties were he to appear and answer questions without limitation,” he wrote.
Terwilliger also called negotiations with the committee “fruitless” and suggested the parties “take a deep breath and reconsider ending the tradition of accommodation between the executive and Congress.”
He suggested Meadows deliver written answers to questions.
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