Former senior Trump White House aide Steve Bannon says he will appeal after being found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress over his refusal to comply with subpoenas issued by the congressional panel investigating the events of January 6, 2021.
The verdict was not unexpected. Some “Never Trumpers,” like retiring U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) had strong praise for the D.C.-jury that found Bannon guilty. “It’s good. I mean justice, right? You can plead the Fifth if you want in front of our committee, but you can’t ignore a congressional subpoena, or you’ll pay the price,” he said on ABC’s “This Week.”
Others, like Harvard legal scholar Alan Dershowitz, think Kinzinger and other “Never Trumpers” are prematurely congratulating themselves over having pushed the issue so far. Interviewed on Newsmax, the noted attorney said the composition of the jury alone was almost certainly enough reason for the conviction to be reversed on appeal.
Dershowitz said the conduct of the trial had raised serious issues. “The only provision of the Constitution, which appears basically twice, is trial by jury in and in front of a fair jury. Number one, he didn’t have a fair jury. Number two, the judge took his defenses away from him,” he said, echoing a claim made by Bannon‘s legal team that the judge’s ruling stripped them of the opportunity to put on an effective defense.
“And all you had to do was say, ‘Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, this man Bannon worked for Trump,’” Dershowitz said. “That’s the end of the case,” which saw Bannon found guilty of criminal contempt of Congress. He’s not the first former administration official to have a congressional contempt citation referred to the U.S. Department of Justice for criminal indictment. Most have not been acted on over the last 50 years, including one involving former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder after he refused to comply with congressional subpoenas seeking information about a DOJ-led undercover operation that armed Mexican drug cartels.
In the trial arising out of Bannon’s November 2021 indictment, prosecutor Molly Gaston argued he “chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” according to published reports that appeared Friday. “When it really comes down to it, he did not want to recognize Congress’ authority or play by the government’s rules,” Gaston said. “Our government only works if people show up. It only works if people play by the rules. And it only works if people are held accountable when they do not.”
Bannon could be sentenced to as little as 30 days per count or as much as two years, something Trump opponents hope might scare other potential witnesses who have refused to appear before the panel to change their minds. That, people who have followed the events closely say, is highly unlikely as the most ardent supporters of the former president view the inquiry as nothing more or less than a directed effort to embarrass the former president. They believe most Democrats and some Republicans want Trump left unable to be a candidate in 2024 for the office he lost in 2020.
There’s a lot not to like about the January 6 Committee, including the way it was established and how House Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to let the chamber’s top Republican, California’s Kevin McCarthy, name who its GOP members would be. From the start, it’s pursued an avenue of inquiry that resembles very much what a high school senior might use when writing a term paper: Come up with the thesis first, look only for evidence to support it, then restate the thesis.
Bannon and others opting not to appear in response to a subpoena are probably right that their cooperation would make them party to a fishing expedition and not from inside the boat. The hook is the panel’s inquiry has been another contemptible effort to get Trump that is an abuse of due process, the separation of powers and the legal system. The idea that Bannon, as Dershowitz suggests, could get a fair hearing before a jury of his peers in Washington, D.C., would be laughable if liberty weren’t on the line. Before anyone brings up the issue of that being a nakedly partisan statement, I say the same thing if California Gov. Gavin Newsom were on trial for criminal violations of his own pandemic lockdown rules in La Jolla or Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s husband were defending his liberty in a courtroom in the U.P. for trying to get his boat in the water ahead of time and against the rules by throwing what he thought was his political weight around.
It can be argued, and probably should be, that Pelosi and company are abusing their power as they have accused Trump of abusing his. Rightly or wrongly, he believed reelection had been denied him through dishonest means. There is no forum for settling that claim, at least at the moment, save the court of public opinion, so what alternatives did he have except to call on his supporters to pressure those in charge of key decisions to consider them carefully and to examine all the evidence? Some of them, if they weren’t just anarchists trying to bring the whole system down by taking advantage of the situation, went too far.
That doesn’t eliminate the fact the concerns Trump raised were dismissed while careful consideration was shown to the losing candidate’s claim in 2000, constantly repeated by a fawning media, that elderly Jewish voters in Florida’s Palm Beach County had mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan when they meant to vote for Gore because the ballot was confusing. People actually took that seriously and it was the over-the-threshold to contesting the outcome of the entire election that stopped the presidential transition process dead in its tracks.
Democrats routinely put their thumbs on the political scales but rarely get called on it. When a Republican does it, it’s an immediate constitutional crisis. Nobody wins in that scenario, except the occasional Democrat in a race where the outcome is disputed. The track record on these kinds of investigations is so bad that even if the Jan. 6 panel does find a smoking gun, half the country will never believe it.
There’s a proper way to look into the events of that day, which were uncalled for, horrific and against everything that America stands for, and the Jan. 6 panel isn’t it. Steve Bannon’s not the only one who should have contempt for Congress because of it.