Steve Bannon, a former adviser to President Donald Trump, is refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
The former president sent a letter to Bannon and three other associates ― among them former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows ― earlier this week instructing them to ignore the committee’s demands. Citing executive privilege, among other legal privileges, Trump indicated that he plans to sue to block the subpoenas, which seek documentation related to the riots and require each recipient to give testimony before the committee next week.
The deadline for a response was Thursday.
Meadows and another witness, former Defense Department official and House Intelligence Committee aide Kash Patel, are “engaging” with the committee, according to a joint statement from committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) and vice chair Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) on Friday.
The statement did not mention the fourth witness, Dan Scavino, who served as the Trump White House’s social media chief. It remains unclear whether he plans to cooperate or follow in Bannon’s footsteps.
“The Select Committee fully expects all of these witnesses to comply with our demands for both documents and deposition testimony,” Thompson and Cheney said.
Thompson previously threatened to pursue legal action against any witnesses who choose not to cooperate and echoed that sentiment Friday.
“Though the Select Committee welcomes good-faith engagement with witnesses seeking to cooperate with our investigation, we will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and we will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral,” the statement read.
It concluded: “We thank those many patriotic Americans who are coming forward voluntarily to participate in our inquiry. The Committee is making rapid progress and will not be deterred by those who seek to obstruct our efforts.”
Witnesses can be held “in contempt of Congress” if they fail to comply with congressional subpoenas, and the Senate has the power to involve the Justice Department. But the last time the Senate opted to arrest a witness attempting to defy a subpoena was in 1927, during the Teapot Dome scandal.
The House committee is seeking a huge array of documentation from many sources. It has already asked the National Archives for communications, photos, videos, phone logs, visitor logs, meeting notes and other records. On Friday, the Biden White House declined to block the release of any of the documents on the basis of executive privilege ― likely prompting a legal showdown with Trump.
Bannon’s letter to the committee also cited Trump’s assertion of executive privilege, the concept that presidents have the right to withhold information and communications that might be of interest to the public or Congress.
“We must accept his direction and honor his invocation of executive privilege,” read Bannon’s letter. “As such, until these issues are resolved, we are unable to respond to your request for documents and testimony.”
Executive privilege is not a right enumerated in the Constitution. Rather, it has been carved out by the courts, which have generally supported the idea that subjective opinions and advice can be kept secret so that people who confer with the president in private have to worry less about their words becoming public.
The privilege is generally assessed on a case-by-case basis in court.
Some legal experts argue that it is only afforded to current presidents — not past ones. Trump was president during the period of time in question, however, and sitting presidents are typically loath to set a precedent that chips away at executive privilege.