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Steve Bannon charged: What is criminal contempt of Congress?

Former President Trump's political advisor has been indicted by the Justice Department for failing to comply with a subpoena for information relating to 6 January.

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Steve Bannon charged: What is criminal contempt of Congress?

The Justice Department has charged Steve Bannon with contempt of Congress for failing to comply with subpoenas from the House committee investigating the Capitol Hill riots.

Bannon served as former President Donald Trump’s political advisor before being fired, but is thought to have been in close contact with Trump in the build-up to 6 January. He is charged with two counts of criminal contempt; one for failing to appear for a deposition, and one for failing to provide certain documents.

Attorney General Merrick Garland, who ordered the indictment, said in a statement: "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.”

"Today's charges reflect the Department's steadfast commitment to these principles."

What has Steve Bannon been charged with?

The two charges levelled at Bannon relate to his refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the House committee investigating the attempted insurrection earlier this year. He has been indicted for criminal contempt of Congress, and could face up to one year in jail for each charge if found guilty.

Bannon’s legal team claim that he is acting under instruction from Trump, who is attempting to invoke executive privilege and prevent the release of White House documents to the committee.

The legal case against Bannon could take years to reach a conclusion in the courts, with plenty of opportunities for legal challenges and the very real possibility that he is acquitted. Trump’s novel use of the theory of executive privilege is largely untested in this scenario, given that he is attempting to utilise the power in perpetuity despite having left office.

Capitol Hill committee flexes muscles

There has been concern amongst some in Washington that the committee’s efforts to compel associates of Trump to testify were being rebuffed too easily. On Monday, Garland issued a spate of new subpoenas but the Justice Department had been reluctant to charge those who defy them.

In took three weeks for the Attorney’s office to act but today’s decision to charge Bannon represents a ratcheting up of pressure on the former President and his closest allies.

The move will also has implications for the likes of Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, who failed to appear for a House deposition earlier on Friday. Last week former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark refused to answer questions during an hour-long stint of questioning before the committee.

President Biden has been unwilling to use his executive powers to compel individuals to appear before the committee, but the new threat of criminal charges will increase the pressure on those closest to Trump on 6 January.