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U.S. House votes to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt

<i>Steve Helber/AP</i><br/>Trump ally Steve Bannon.
Steve Helber/AP
Trump ally Steve Bannon.

WASHINGTON, DC — The U.S. House voted Thursday afternoon to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Now, the U.S. Attorney's Office must decide whether to prosecute. The congressional committee has vowed to move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t cooperate with the probe.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with almost all Republicans voting against the contempt measure. The partisan debate is emblematic of the raw tensions that are still lingering in Congress nine months after the Capitol attack.

Next steps after the vote

Following the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was expected to certify the report to the United States attorney for the District of Columbia. Under law, this certification then requires the United States attorney to "bring the matter before the grand jury for its action," but the Justice Department will also make its own determinations for prosecution.

Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress would be guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months' imprisonment. But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time.

Holding Bannon in criminal contempt through a prosecution could take years, and historically, criminal contempt cases have been derailed by appeals and acquittals.

As a result, the House's pursuit of criminal charges may be more about making an example out of Bannon and sending a message to other potential witnesses.

"I want our witnesses to understand something very plainly. If you are thinking of following the path Mr. Bannon has gone down you are on notice that this is what you'll face," Thompson said on Tuesday.

A stark partisan divide

The vast majority of House Republicans opposed the effort to Bannon in contempt of Congress, brushing aside concerns about weakening the institution's future oversight authority and rejecting accusations that they're trying to block Democrats from getting to the bottom of the January 6 insurrection.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, when pressed by CNN on Thursday on whether he's okay with people defying congressional subpoenas, said the January 6 select committee's subpoena of Bannon is "invalid."

"He has the right to go to the court to see if he has executive privilege or not. I don't know if he does or not, but neither does the committee," McCarthy said. "So they're weakening the power of Congress itself by issuing invalid subpoenas."

Republican Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the special committee, criticized her colleagues Thursday for protecting Bannon.

"There are people in this chamber right now who were with me and with the rest of us on that day during that attack. People who now seem to have forgotten the danger of the moment, the assault on the Constitution, the assault on our Congress. People who you will hear argue that there is simply no legislative purpose for this committee for this investigation or for this subpoena," she said.

Cheney said the former President knew the riot was happening and took no action to stop it.

"President Trump knew it was happening. Indeed he may have been watching it all unfold on television. And yet he took no immediate action to stop it," she added.

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