Steve Bannon, the former political strategist for former President Donald Trump, has agreed to speak with the January 6 committee, just days before his contempt of Congress trial is set to begin. But many legal experts have questioned whether Bannon is earnest in his desire to be a cooperating witness.
Bannon was subpoenaed by the House select committee investigating the Capitol attack for his involvement in discussions with Trump associates regarding the planning for January 6. “Stephen Bannon reportedly communicated with former President Trump on December 30th, 2020, urging him to focus his efforts on January 6th,” the committee wrote in a press release last fall. “Mr. Bannon also reportedly attended a gathering at the Willard Hotel on January 5th, 2021, as part of an effort to persuade Members of Congress to block the certification of the election the next day.”
Bannon refused to comply with the subpoena order, claiming that he was not authorized to speak due to executive privilege claims that Trump had purportedly invoked. The committee recommended contempt of Congress charges against Bannon, which the House voted to approve; he was later indicted by the Department of Justice (DOJ).
In his court filing, Bannon claimed that Trump, who openly doubts the legitimacy of the January 6 committee, waived executive privilege for him, allowing Bannon to “go in and testify truthfully and fairly, as per the request of the unselect committee of political thugs and hacks.”
His claims that Trump invoked executive privilege in the first place, however, were highly dubious — several legal experts say that only the current president can invoke such claims. On Monday, it was revealed that Trump had never actually made a formal claim of privilege for Bannon that would have required him to stay quiet about their conversations.
Bannon’s contempt of Congress trial was set to commence on July 18. His latest filing to the court, in which he says he is now willing to testify, brings into question whether that date will be delayed or whether the trial will be canceled altogether. Meanwhile, the DOJ responded to his announcement with a filing of its own, saying that Bannon’s intentions were questionable.
Bannon’s moves suggest that his “sudden wish to testify is not a genuine effort to meet his obligations but a last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability,” the DOJ said in its filing.
“The only thing that has really changed since he refused to comply with the subpoena in October 2021 is that he is finally about to face the consequences of his decision to default,” the department added.
Several legal minds questioned over the weekend whether Bannon, with or without Trump’s blessing, had something else in mind. In his filing saying he was ready to speak with the committee, Bannon said that he preferred to do so publicly — an action that wouldn’t allow the panel to vet his answers, meaning that he could potentially give responses that contradicted evidence the committee has regarding the Capitol attack and attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
“My feeling as a prosecutor would be this is a Trojan horse, coming into spread nonsense and to try to come in from inside, blow up the investigation,” former federal prosecutor John Flannery said on MSNBC over the weekend.
Joyce Alene, another former prosecutor, agreed.
“Given Bannon’s clear statements over time that he wants to burn all of government down there is no reason to treat this like a good faith offer,” Alene wrote on Twitter. “As with all other witnesses, he should have to speak privately with the committee, under oath, first to test his truthfulness.”
Nevertheless, it seems likely that the January 6 committee will ask Bannon to appear before them. Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-California), a member of the panel, said that the committee “has not yet had a chance to discuss” Bannon’s change of heart.
“But I expect that we will be hearing from him,” she added. “And there are many questions that we have for him.”
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