Steve Bannon, the longtime close adviser to former president Donald Trump, was indicted Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena to provide documents and testimony to the special committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.
Each misdemeanor count carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and a minimum term of 30 days behind bars. A date hasn’t been set yet for Bannon’s first court appearance.
The indictment comes just over three weeks after the House voted to hold Bannon in criminal contempt and refer the case over to the Justice Department to decide whether to take the matter to a grand jury. Earlier this week, Attorney General Merrick Garland had been asked about the status of the case and demurred, only saying generally that officials were following the normal review process.
Bannon had refused to comply with a congressional subpoena issued by the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol. He was scheduled to appear before the panel, but instead his lawyers sent a letter claiming Bannon was “exercising executive privilege” per the instruction of Trump’s lawyer. Trump himself has attempted to use executive privilege to block records from his administration being released to the panel, which is now the subject of a court fight.
Bannon was the first former Trump aide to defy the panel’s request based on Trump’s claim of executive privilege. His indictment raises the stakes for other former aides who defy the committee at Trump’s direction. Mark Meadows, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, did not appear for a House panel deposition scheduled for Friday.
“Mr. Meadows’s actions today — choosing to defy the law — will force the Select Committee to consider pursuing contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena,” Reps. Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, cochairs of the committee, wrote in a statement.
The indictment was signed by the newly confirmed US attorney in Washington, Matthew Graves, marking one of his first politically significant actions as the head of the office that’s taken the lead this year in prosecuting hundreds of cases related to the Capitol riot.
Trump and Bannon had something of a hot and cold relationship during Trump’s time in the White House. They had a falling out in 2018 over insults Bannon was quoted as saying about Trump’s family in Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, but reportedly had reconciled by the time Trump left office, after Bannon backed his voter fraud lies on his own popular podcast. Bannon at the time was facing federal criminal charges on allegations that he committed fraud as part of a “We Build the Wall” fundraising effort; Trump pardoned him hours before Biden was sworn in on Jan. 20.
Bannon did not respond to a request for comment about the indictment.
Contempt of Congress prosecutions are extremely rare. A Congressional Research Service report from 2017 noted that previous attorneys general have directed the US attorney in Washington to not prosecute executive branch officials who were acting at the direction of a president who asserted executive privilege. Trump is not, however, president anymore, and has so far lost in court trying to argue that he should be able to claim that privilege to block document demands by the committee even though Biden has refused to support it.