Attorney General Merrick Garland vows to apply 'facts and the law' if Steve Bannon contempt referred to DOJ

  • In Politics
  • 2021-10-21 17:27:13Z

With a House vote looming to advance contempt proceedings against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Attorney General Merrick Garland made no commitment Thursday to pursue criminal charges against Bannon if Congress referred the case for prosecution.

But the attorney general, in testimony before the House Judiciary Committee, vowed to to "apply the facts and law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution" should the Trump adviser's fate fall to the Justice Department.

The case is likely to land in Garland's lap as soon as this week, as the House is expected to uphold the contempt findings recommended earlier this week by the select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, leading to a likely referral to Justice for criminal prosecution.

Such a referral also would set up a unique test for Garland's Justice Department which has repeatedly asserted its independence from the White House, even as President Joe Biden has said he believed witnesses who defy the committee's requests should be prosecuted.

Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington on June 25, 2021.
Attorney General Merrick Garland speaks during a news conference at the Department of Justice in Washington on June 25, 2021.  

Biden's brief remarks on the matter last week brought a swift response from the department.

"The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop," Justice spokesman Anthony Coley said then.

More: January 6 committee votes to hold Steve Bannon in contempt

More: Steve Bannon 'blew off a congressional subpoena'

Investigating threats to schools

Garland responded to questions about Bannon's potential legal jeopardy at the start of the House hearing where Republicans largely seized on an entirely unrelated issue: a memo issued earlier this month by the attorney general directing the FBI and federal prosecutors to meet with local leaders about threats to school officials.

Republican lawmakers suggested that Garland's memo cast parents who objected to curriculum decisions and policies related to coronavirus protections as "domestic terrorists."

Garland rejected the assertions, saying the memo imposed no restrictions on parents who were free to raise questions and disagree on decisions involving their children.

"I do not believe parents should be classified as domestic terrorists," the attorney general said, adding that the FBI and federal prosecutors were concerned only with violence and threats of violence directed at school personnel.

Bannon as a warning?

In the case of Bannon, who served as White House chief strategist for the first few months of the Trump presidency, lawmakers have cited him for contempt for ignoring subpoenas from the Jan. 6 panel seeking documents and testimony about the deadly assault on the Capitol carried out by a pro-Trump mob.

The select committee voted unanimously Tuesday to hold Bannon in contempt.

The panel has issued subpoenas to several other figures from Trump's orbit, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and longtime Trump social media director Dan Scavino, with the aim of pressing them on what they knew before the attack.

Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., has warned that if others choose not to comply, they will face similar contempt charges.

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

Contributing: Savannah Behrmann

Follow Justice reporter Kevin Johnson on Twitter @bykevinj and dive deeper into his work here:

  • They were amateurs with gum wrappers and peanut butter. And they nearly sold US military secrets.

  • 4 police died by suicide after the Capitol riot. Their names won't be memorialized

  • 9 times Trump pressured DOJ to overturn election results

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: AG Garland vows to apply 'facts, law' if Bannon referred to DOJ


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