The House probe on January 6 sought to send a chilling message deep into Donald Trump’s closest circle by paving the road for the prosecution of Steve Bannon.
However, the perils of that method were highlighted on Monday, when the ex-political President’s arsonist surrendered to the FBI after a grand jury charged him for contempt of Congress last week. Bannon, ever the outsider wrecking ball, set a bad example by turning attempts to hold Trump acolytes responsible into fodder for even more radicalism.
Former Wall Street banker turned firebrand populist podcaster embraced victimization in the service of Trumpism, much like political dirty tactics maestro and Trump supporter Roger Stone.
He pledged to destabilize the Biden “regime” and turn the allegations against him into a “misdemeanor from Hell” for the President, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and Attorney General Merrick Garland, who approved his prosecution.
“I am never going to back down. They took on the wrong guy this time,” Bannon said, essentially initiating a political campaign that will unfold alongside what could be a lengthy legal battle, which may even outlive the committee’s existence if Republicans take control of the House in November and shut down the investigation.
The issues now are whether Bannon’s arraignment in court this week will deflate some of his arrogance and encourage other Trump ex-officials not to risk the law’s wrath and consent to testify. Will his creation of a fresh Trumpian cause idealizing inspire other subpoenaed former President’s associates, such as ex-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, to stay fast on dubious allegations of executive privilege? And will Bannon’s line of demarcation, which parallels Trump’s growing political return and likely 2024 White House attempt, create a bar that everyone who wants to stay in the ex-circle President’s must meet despite personal legal risk?
According to sources, the committee will hear Meadows’ case on Tuesday, but has yet to reach a decision on whether he will face a criminal contempt of Congress citation, similar to the one that prompted the Justice Department’s action against Bannon.
The committee wants to question Bannon about his alleged participation in a “war room” at the Willard Hotel in Washington, DC, where he allegedly aided Trump’s attempt to steal the election from Biden, as well as preparations for the January 6 rally that became violent. Bannon claims that his discussions with Trump are protected by executive privilege. However, because Bannon was not a functioning White House employee at the time and departed the administration in 2017, the idea that permits presidents to receive private counsel from advisors seems to be a stretch in this situation.
Bannon’s use of words was not a fluke. His use of the term “regime” to characterize Biden’s administration is another another proof of the ex-authoritarian President’s tendency, which his acolytes want to ride back to power. Of all, Biden was legitimately elected, and his success represented the desire of 81 million Americans who opposed Trump’s second term. If any operation is behaving like a “regime” – a term generally associated with dictatorial autocrats and fraudulent governments seizing power via force – it is Trump’s. After all, it was his mob who instigated the Capitol insurrection on January 6.
Bannon’s media tantrums on Monday, directed at Trump loyalists and followers of his incendiary webcast that glows with misinformation about the 2020 race, highlighted another another problem in holding the ex-President or his inner circle accountable. When one side attempts to uphold the rule of law by traditional methods while the other creates as much disorder as possible, the tools of accountability themselves become tainted.
In many respects, Trump and his associates’ unbridled conduct has left people who wish to protect democracy from his offenses with little option except to pull institutional levers of law and justice. However, such action comes at a high cost when Trump and Bannon are engaged, whose strategies focus upon knocking down facts and institutions and seeing where the rubble falls.
Trump’s two impeachments, for example, did not result in his conviction for abusing authority by attempting to persuade Ukraine to intervene in the election or for inciting a coup in order to remain in office. His iron grip on Republican senators ensured that he was acquitted in both cases. However, the impeachments widened political schisms and fueled the rage that fuels Trump’s basic support.
The two historic conflicts between Congress and Trump also politicized the machinery of government and democracy, causing millions of Trump supporters to lose faith. As a result, conventional means of holding errant presidents accountable may no longer be successful in the future.
When there is a strong force like Trump, who cares nothing about the rule of law or bringing dishonor to history with a double impeachment, the freedom for out-of-bounds political activity is boundless. Perhaps, in the end, Bannon will pay the price for disobeying the House select committee by serving time in prison. However, the political benefits for him may exceed the fines and hardship. And, if Trump is restored, Bannon may presumably receive a pardon similar to the one Trump has gave him in a fraud case.
His legal battle may put him in the limelight for months, far outweighing his typical position on conservative radio, where he has become an increasingly important voice among Trump supporters.
The lawsuit might take a lengthy and winding path, with several filings and appeals, and convoluted discussions about executive privilege. There may possibly be a few surprises.
Carl Nichols, the assigned judge, is a Trump appointment who has a history as a lawyer of defending the Bush administration in conflicts with congressional subpoenas. However, judges often object to their courtrooms being converted into circuses. A court in a lawsuit involving Stone that emerged from the Mueller probe, for example, slapped a gag order when the experienced Richard Nixon-era operative-turned-Trump-confidant attempted to make it into a political media spectacle.
After years of asserting a deep state plot by the establishment to derail Trump’s populist reign, it was always apparent that Bannon would use his indictment as yet another political platform. However, Rep. Adam Schiff, who led Democrats in the first Senate impeachment trial, said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that he felt the Bannon charge was already effective.
“Even before the Justice Department acted, it influenced other witnesses who were not going to be Steve Bannon. And now that witnesses see that if they don’t cooperate, if they don’t fulfill their lawful duty when subpoenaed, that they too may be prosecuted, it will have a very strong focusing effect on their decision making.”
However, Schiff acknowledged that there is a possibility that witnesses portraying themselves as political martyrs to the ex-“Make America Great Again” mob would be emboldened by Bannon’s resistance.
“I’m concerned, frankly, of what that represents, basically that the Republican Party, at the top levels, that is Donald Trump and those around him, seem to feel that they’re above the law and free to thwart it,” he said.
“Bannon did what he did because for four years, that’s what worked. They could hold Republican Party conventions on the White House grounds. They could fire inspector generals, they could retaliate against whistleblowers. It was essentially a lawless presidency and they were proud of it.”