House votes to hold Trump ally Steve Bannon in contempt

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The House voted Thursday to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress after he defied a subpoena from the committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection. Now the U.S. attorney’s office must decide whether to prosecute.

The vote was mostly along party lines, with almost all Republicans voting against the contempt measure. The partisan debate is emblematic of the raw tensions that are still lingering in Congress nine months after the Capitol attack.

The committee has vowed to move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t cooperate with the probe. But it’s likely up to the Justice Department, and the courts, to determine what happens next.

Earlier, Attorney General Merrick Garland gave no hints during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on what action the Justice Department may take.

"If the House of Representatives votes for a referral of a contempt charge, the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances. It will apply the facts and the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution," Garland said.

In his opening remarks the attorney general told the committee the Jan. 6 investigation is one of the most "sweeping" in Justice Department history.

"Keeping our country safe requires protecting its democratic institutions, including the one we sit in today, from violent attack."

The outcome could determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation but also the strength of Congress’ power to call witnesses and demand information – factors that will certainly be weighing on Justice officials as they determine whether to move forward.

While the department has historically been reluctant to use its prosecution power against witnesses found in contempt of Congress, the circumstances are exceptional as lawmakers investigate the worst attack on the U.S. Capitol in two centuries.

The Jan. 6 panel voted Tuesday evening to recommend the contempt charges against Bannon, citing reports that he spoke with Trump before the insurrection, promoted the protests that day and predicted there would be unrest. Members said Bannon was alone in completely defying his subpoena, while more than a dozen other witnesses were at least speaking to the panel.