WASHINGTON - Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, appeared before a judge on Monday to face criminal contempt charges for defying a subpoena regarding the investigation into the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot.
Bannon, 67, was indicted Friday on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress after he defied the subpoena from the House committee investigating the violent insurrection. He surrendered earlier in the day to the FBI field office in Washington, D.C.
Bannon did not enter a plea during the hearing. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather released him without bail but required him to check in weekly with court officials and ordered him to surrender his passport. He is due back in court on Thursday.
He told reporters after the hearing that he’s "going on the offense."
"This is going to be the misdemeanor from hell," Bannon said.
WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 15: Former Trump Administration White House advisor Steve Bannon gives a brief statement as he arrives to turn himself in at the FBI Washington Field Office on Nov. 15, 2021, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty I
The Justice Department said Bannon was indicted on one count for refusing to appear for a deposition last month and one count for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena. Each count carries a minimum of 30 days of jail and as long as a year behind bars, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000.
The indictment followed a bipartisan vote on the House floor last month to refer Bannon for contempt and was sent to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. House investigators hope the action against Bannon will sway others to testify.
Several Trump administration officials, including Bannon, have defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence, including during Democrats' impeachment inquiry. President Barack Obama's administration also declined to charge two of its officials who defied congressional demands.
The House voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress on Oct. 21 after he refused to show up for a deposition or even engage with the committee as it investigates the siege of Trump's supporters that was the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries.
A second expected witness, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, defied his own subpoena from the committee on Friday, as Trump has escalated his legal battles to withhold documents and testimony about the insurrection.
If the House votes to hold Meadows in contempt, that recommendation would go to the Justice Department for a possible indictment. The chairman of the Jan. 6 committee, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., told reporters at an event in his home state Friday that he will recommend contempt charges against Meadows this coming week.
Attorney General Merrick Garland said Bannon’s indictment reflects the Justice Department’s "steadfast commitment" to the rule of law.
"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," Garland said in a statement. "Today’s charges reflect the department’s steadfast commitment to these principles."
In a joint statement, Thompson and the committee's Republican vice chairwoman, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, added that 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."
They continued: "Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail."
Officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations have been held in contempt by Congress, but criminal indictments for contempt are 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 of misdemeanor charges for refusing to answer questions about his role in the Watergate scandal.
Bannon and Meadows are key witnesses for the committee because they both were in close contact with Trump around the time of the insurrection.
Meadows was Trump’s top aide at the end of his presidency and was one of several people who pressured state officials to try and overturn the results of the 2020 election that Democrat Joe Biden won. Bannon promoted the Jan. 6 protests on his podcast after predicting the day before that "all hell is going to break loose."
The indictment says Bannon didn’t communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on Sept. 24 until Oct. 7, when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due.
Bannon, who left his job at the White House in 2017 and currently serves as host of the conspiracy-minded "War Room" podcast, is a private citizen who "refused to appear to give testimony as required by a subpoena," the indictment says.
When Bannon declined to appear for his deposition in October, his attorney said the former Trump adviser had been directed by a lawyer for Trump, citing executive privilege, not to answer questions.
Bannon has faced legal trouble before. In August of 2020, Bannon was pulled from a luxury yacht and arrested on allegations that he and three associates ripped off donors trying to fund a U.S.-Mexico border wall. Trump pardoned Bannon in the final hours of his presidency.
Meadows, a former congressman from North Carolina, defied his subpoena after weeks of discussions with the committee. His lawyer said Meadows has a "sharp legal dispute" with the committee as Trump was asserting executive privilege Meadows' testimony, as Trump had with Bannon's.
The White House said in a letter Thursday that Biden would waive any privilege that would prevent Meadows from cooperating with the committee, prompting Meadows' lawyer to say he would not comply.
"Legal disputes are appropriately resolved by courts," said the lawyer, George Terwilliger. "It would be irresponsible for Mr. Meadows to prematurely resolve that dispute by voluntarily waiving privileges that are at the heart of those legal issues."
Biden has waived most of Trump's assertions of privilege over documents and interviews, citing the interest of the public in knowing what happened on Jan. 6. Trump sued the committee and the National Archives to stop the release of documents, and U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan has repeatedly backed Biden's position — noting in one ruling this past week that "Presidents are not kings, and Plaintiff is not President."
The committee's proceedings and attempts to gather information have been delayed while Trump appealed Chutkan's rulings. On Thursday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked the release of some of the White House records the panel is seeking, giving that court time to consider Trump's arguments.
Still, the committee is continuing its work, and members have interviewed more than 150 witnesses in an attempt to build a comprehensive record of how a violent mob of Trump's supporters broke into the Capitol and temporarily halted the certification of Biden's victory.
The committee has subpoenaed almost three dozen people, including former White House staffers, Trump allies who strategized about how to overturn his defeat and people who organized a giant rally near the White House on the morning of Jan. 6. While some, like Meadows and Bannon, have balked, several others have spoken to the panel and provided documents.
The Associated Press contributed to this report. It was reported from Cincinnati.