Analysis: Steve Bannon’s circus undermines tough legal strategy of January 6th investigation
The risks of that strategy, however, became clear on Monday when the ex-president’s political arsonist surrendered to the FBI after a grand jury charged him last week with disregard for Congress. Always the wrecking ball for underdogs, Bannon set the example of turning efforts to hold Trump acolytes accountable into fuel for more extremism.
He vowed to overthrow the Biden “regime” and make the charges against him an “offense from hell” for the President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who signed his indictment.
“I’ll never give in. They took on the wrong one this time,” Bannon said, launching a practically political campaign that will unfold alongside a potentially long litigation that could even last the life of the committee if the Republicans hit Republicans next November Gain control of the House of Representatives and shut down the probe.
The questions now are whether Bannon’s upcoming trial for a charge this week will undo some of his bravery and convince other Trump ex-officials not to risk the wrath of the law and agree to testify. Or will his unleashing of a new Trumpian celebre cause convince other summoned allies of the former president – such as former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows – to uphold questionable claims about executive privilege? And will Bannon’s line in the sand, which runs parallel to Trump’s political comeback and a possible bid for the White House in 2024, set a standard that anyone who wants to remain in the orbit of the ex-president despite personal legal danger must meet?
Sources told CNN that the committee will look into the Meadows case on Tuesday, although no consensus has yet to be reached on whether it will face criminal disregard for the Congressional quote, which sparked the Justice Department’s move against Bannon.
The committee wants to talk to Bannon about his alleged role in a “war room” at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where he allegedly supported Trump’s campaign to steal Biden’s election, and about preparations for a riot rally on the 6th. Bannon claims his deliberations with Trump come under executive privilege. But the concept of allowing presidents to seek confidential advice from advisors seems far-fetched in this case, given that Bannon was not an acting White House official at the time and left the government in 2017.
Bannon’s choice of language was not a mistake. His use of the word “regime” to describe Biden’s government is yet another example of the authoritarian streak that the ex-president’s acolytes are hoping to return to power. Of course, Biden was democratically elected, and his victory reflected the will of 81 million voters who rejected the idea of Trump’s second term. If an operation seems like a “regime” – a word usually associated with tyrannical juntas and illegitimate governments seizing power by force – it is Trump’s. After all, on January 6th he instigated the uprising in the Capitol with his mob.
The price of holding the Trump world accountable
Bannon’s media drama on Monday, aimed at Trump supporters and supporters of his inflammatory podcast pulsing with lies about the 2020 elections, also underscored another difficulty in holding the ex-president or his wider circle to account. When one side tries to uphold the rule of law by conventional means and the other wreak havoc as much as possible, the instruments of accountability themselves become tarnished.
In many ways, the unleashed behavior of Trump and his allies left those who wish to defend democracy from its transgressions no choice but to use institutional levers for law and justice. But such actions come with high costs when Trump and Bannon – whose methods revolve around tearing down truths and institutions and seeing where the rubble fall – are involved.
Trump’s two impeachment trials, for example, did not result in his conviction of abuse of power in attempting to persuade Ukraine to meddle in the elections or the coup he instigated to stay in office. His iron rule over GOP senators ensured that he was acquitted in both cases. But these impeachments have deepened political divisions and fueled the anger that drove his appeal to his grassroots. The two historic battles between Congress and Trump have also politicized the government and democracy machinery to the point that they have lost the trust of millions of Trump supporters. As a result, these traditional methods of holding dissenting presidents accountable may not work effectively in the future.
When there is a powerful force like Trump who cares little about the rule of law or the shame of history with double impeachment, the scope for political behavior outside of borders is limitless. Perhaps Bannon will eventually pay the price for opposing the House of Representatives Special Committee with jail terms. But the political rewards for him might outweigh such sanctions and discomfort. And if his victim is followed by a Trump recovery, Bannon could likely expect a pardon equivalent to what Trump has already given him in a fraud case.
His legal battle could give him a media spotlight for months that dwarfs his normal role on the conservative ether, where he has become an increasingly influential voice among Trump partisans.
The case could be a long and winding road, with possible delays, multiple filings and appeals, and complicated debates over the issue of executive privilege. There may also be a few wildcard moments.
The entrusted judge, Carl Nichols, is a Trump-appointed attorney who has served as a lawyer to defend the Bush administration in disputes over subpoenas from Congress, CNN’s Evan Perez reported. But judges too often shy away from having their courtrooms turned into circuses. For example, a judge on a Mueller investigation with Stone issued a gag order when the Richard Nixon-era veteran who became a Trump confidante tried to turn it into a political media spectacle.
Trump team feels “above the law”
The possibility that Bannon would use his indictment as another political platform after years of alleging a deep establishment state conspiracy to destroy Trump’s populist rule has always been evident. But one of the committee’s most prominent members, Rep. Adam Schiff, who led the Democrats in the Senate’s first impeachment trial, said on NBC’s Meet the Press Sunday that he believed the charges against Bannon were already in effect.
“Even before the Justice Department acted, it was influencing other witnesses who did not want to be Steve Bannon. And now that witnesses see that if they don’t cooperate, if they fail to comply with their legal duty on a subpoena, they too may “be prosecuted, it will have a very strong focusing effect on their decision-making.”
Schiff also acknowledged, however, that there is a danger that witnesses posing as political martyrs for the ex-president’s Make America Great Again crowd could find inspiration in Bannon’s defiance.
“I am honestly concerned about what it means, essentially that the Republican Party at the highest levels, including Donald Trump and his entourage, seems to feel above the law and thwart it.” he said.
“Bannon did what he did because he worked for four years. They could hold Republican conventions on the White House grounds. They could fire inspectors-general, they could fight back whistleblowers. It was essentially a lawless presidency on the they were proud. ” it.”
The House Special Committee has so far issued 35 subpoenas to individuals and organizations seeking testimony and documents. Trump is currently appealing a federal court ruling that nullified his attempt to assert executive privilege over call logs, White House visitor logs, memos, and other material. Committee members argue that law and precedent mean that the final say on privilege issues rests with the current president rather than the former president. Biden said the events of Jan.
The committee’s next move on Meadows is being carefully watched. Despite being a staunch Trump loyalist, the former North Carolina Congressman is less of a partisan flamethrower than Bannon. But as the acting White House official at the time of the insurrection, he may have a stronger case of leadership privilege than the prominent podcaster. Sources told CNN’s Ryan Nobles and Annie Grayer on Monday that the committee has not yet reached consensus on how to proceed against the former White House chief of staff.
While Meadows failed to appear for a required committee appearance on Friday, he did manage to do a Fox Business Network interview on Monday with host Larry Kudlow, a former Trump White House official, about the January 6th events.
“I can tell you, you and I both know that nobody in the west wing knew something like what happened on January 6th was going to happen,” Meadows said.
It is for once one thing to make such a comment on FBN, but Meadows has so far been unwilling to repeat it under oath before the select committee. It is this inconsistency and defiance that motivated the panel’s duel with Bannon and could soon get the ex-chief of staff into similar trouble.