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Steve Bannon faces federal charges for contempt of Congress

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Steve Bannon now faces federal charges for contempt of Congress. The charges against former President Trump's one-time political strategist stemmed from his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the Democratic-led House committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas joins us. Ryan, thanks for being with us.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: What can you tell us about the charges against Steve Bannon?

LUCAS: Well, a federal grand jury indicted Bannon on two counts, as you said, of contempt of Congress. One count is for his failure to appear for a deposition with the House January 6 committee. The other is for failing to produce documents in response to the committee's subpoena. Bannon left the Trump administration years before the attack on the Capitol, of course, but he remained in Trump's orbit. And the committee believes he has useful information about the events of January 6, including a meeting he attended with Trump allies the night before at a Washington hotel. Now, Bannon cited executive privilege in his refusal to comply with the subpoena, a move that Trump encouraged but one, of course, that the committee and many legal experts found dubious. The House voted to hold Bannon in contempt. It then referred him to the Justice Department for possible prosecution. Federal prosecutors weighed this case for several weeks and ultimately, as we now see, decided on charges.

SIMON: Steve Bannon is outspoken on a number of different platforms. Any public response from him?

LUCAS: Not yet. No. I reached out to his attorney. I haven't heard back. Bannon is not in custody right now. I'm told he's expected to self-surrender to authorities on Monday and to appear in federal court here in D.C. later that day. Obviously, this is just the start of this prosecution. But it's worth noting here that if Bannon were to be convicted, each count here carries a minimum of 30 days in jail and a maximum of one year.

Now, you may remember that back in 2020, Bannon was charged in a fraud and money laundering case in New York. But Trump pardoned him before he left office. Bannon, of course, doesn't have that sort of ticket out of these charges. For his part, Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement that he has said from day one of his tenure at the Justice Department that the department would adhere to the rule of law and pursue equal justice. And he says that that's exactly what the department is doing here.

SIMON: Ryan, the House Committee is meeting a lot of resistance in trying to interview key Trump advisers. Does the indictment of Steve Bannon have the potential to change that?

LUCAS: Well, the committee certainly thinks so. Its chairman and vice chair, Democrat Bennie Thompson and Republican Liz Cheney, say Bannon's indictment should send a clear message to anyone who thinks that they can ignore the committee or try to stonewall its investigation. They said in a statement that no one is above the law and, quote, "we will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information that we need." And that last bit there is interesting. Remember, the committee has issued more than 30 subpoenas in its investigation so far. So contempt charges against Bannon may convince some people to comply.

SIMON: Well, Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, missed - or maybe we should say ignored - a deadline yesterday, Friday...

LUCAS: Right.

SIMON: ...To answer the committee's questions. Could he wind up facing contempt charges?

LUCAS: Well, Meadows, like Bannon, was subpoenaed by the committee. And like Bannon, he did not comply, as you said. Meadows, too, has cited executive privilege as the reason for his refusal to cooperate. Meadows was a no-show for a deposition on Friday. There's little indication at this point that he's going to change his mind. His attorney has indicated that this issue, in their view, will be decided in the courts. Thompson and Cheney from the committee have taken all that in and have said in a statement that the panel is going to have to consider pursuing contempt against Meadows, as well.

SIMON: NPR's Ryan Lucas, thanks so much.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.