ANALYSIS — The House voted on Oct. 21 to find Stephen Bannon, former campaign executive and adviser to President Donald Trump, in criminal contempt of Congress, with nine members of the GOP siding with all voting Democrats on the matter, 229-202.
Such contempt votes in recent years have been decidedly partisan affairs.
Bannon had refused to cooperate with the House’s select committee investigating the deadly riots at the Capitol on Jan. 6, claiming executive privilege, despite having left his official role at the White House three years before the events under investigation.
Prior to the vote, Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the select committee, criticized her fellow Republican colleagues for downplaying the events of Jan. 6 and for dismissing the idea of the panel altogether. She argued that Bannon’s testimony was needed.
“Mr. Bannon’s own public statements make clear he knew what was going to happen before it did and thus he must have been aware of, and may well have been involved in, the planning of everything that played out on that day,” she said. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”
Cheney and nine other House Republicans drew Trump’s ire and electoral opposition when they voted in favor of his impeachment in January. Six of these Republicans again voted with her to hold Bannon in contempt, joined this time by GOP Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania and Nancy Mace of South Carolina.
Mace, a freshman who had previously voted against impeachment and the establishment of a select committee, penned an opinion piece for The (Charleston) Post and Courier that explained her vote as one merely in support of the powers of the legislative branch. “It was a vote regarding contempt of a congressional committee, a vote to protect Congress’ authority to investigate and issue subpoenas. It was a vote to follow the law and preserve congressional power of inquiry,” she wrote.
In the end, it is unclear whether the contempt finding will compel any cooperation from Bannon.
“In terms of the criminal statute, which is what they’re using, that’s not a very effective way at all because that’s a punishment for refusing to comply,” Stanley Brand, a law professor at Penn State University and a former House counsel, told CQ Roll Call. “That doesn’t yield you, necessarily, the information you want, particularly if it takes a year and a half to litigate a case through a trial and appeals.”
The last contempt vote in 2019 had all 194 House Republicans united against all but four Democrats in opposition to finding two Trump officials in contempt.
Members of both parties have introduced legislation to lend more teeth to contempt findings, including one that would have directed the sergeant-at-arms to arrest a specific official and specified what privileges they should have during their time in jail.