Pence lone member to not vote on Bannon contempt

Rep. Greg Pence, R-Indiana, was the only member of the House to not cast a vote on a resolution to hold Steve Bannon, a longtime ally and aide to former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress after defying a subpoena from a committee investigating the violent Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection.

Hannah Osantowski, a spokeswoman for Pence, said the congressman had a family medical emergency that he had to attend to, but he would have voted no.”

On Thursday, the contempt resolution cleared the House in a 229-202 vote largely split along party lines, with all Democrats and nine Republicans supporting the measure.

Pence, a Columbus native, is the brother of former Vice President Mike Pence, who drew the ire of some Trump supporters when he said he did not have the power to overturn Democrat Joe Biden’s election victory — including some who were chanting “Hang Mike Pence!” as they forced their way inside the Capitol on Jan. 6.

The matter involving Bannon will now be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, where prosecutors will decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges, The Associated Press reported.

The outcome could determine not only the effectiveness of the House investigation, but the strength of Congress’ power to call witnesses and demand information, according to wire reports.

The partisan split over Bannon’s subpoena — and over the committee’s investigation in general — is emblematic of the raw tensions that still grip Congress nine months after the worst attack on the Capitol in two centuries, according to wire reports.

Democrats have vowed to comprehensively probe the assault in which hundreds of Trump supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers, some fatally, and interrupted the electoral count certifying President Joe Biden’s victory, according to the AP.

Lawmakers on the nine-member investigating committee, which includes two Republicans, say they will move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who won’t cooperate with the probe.

Other Republicans call it a “witch hunt,” say it is a waste of time and that Congress should be focusing on more important matters.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, who led the GOP’s opposition on the House floor, called the probe an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens” and said Bannon is a “Democrat Party boogeyman.”

Still defending his supporters who broke into the Capitol that day, Trump has aggressively tried to block the committee’s work by directing Bannon and others not to answer questions in the probe, according to wire reports. Trump has also filed a lawsuit to try to prevent Congress from obtaining White House documents.

The contempt resolution asserts that the former Trump aide and podcast host has no legal standing to rebuff the committee — even as Trump’s lawyer has argued that Bannon should not disclose information because it is protected by the privilege of the former president’s office, according to the AP.

The committee noted that Bannon, fired from his White House job in 2017, was a private citizen when he spoke to Trump ahead of the attack. And Trump has not asserted any such executive privilege claims to the panel itself, lawmakers said.

Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney — one of the Republicans on the committee, and a rare GOP critic of Trump — said Bannon and Trump’s privilege arguments suggest the former president was “personally involved” in the planning and execution of the day’s events.

Bannon “appears to have had multiple roles relevant to this investigation, including his role in constructing and participating in the ‘stop the steal’ public relations effort that motivated the attack” and “his efforts to plan political and other activity in advance of January 6th,” the committee wrote in the resolution recommending contempt.

The Biden White House has also rejected Bannon’s privilege claims, with Deputy Counsel Jonathan Su writing Bannon’s lawyer this week to say that “at this point we are not aware of any basis for your client’s refusal to appear for a deposition,” according to wire reports. Biden’s judgment that executive privilege is not justified, Su wrote, “applies to your client’s deposition testimony and to any documents your client may possess.”

Asked last week if the Justice Department should prosecute those who refuse to testify, Biden said yes, according to the AP. But the Justice Department quickly pushed back, with a spokesman saying the department would make its own decisions.

Even though the vote succeeded, there’s still considerable uncertainty about whether the Justice Department will prosecute Bannon, despite Democratic demands for action, according to wire reports.

Attorney General Merrick Garland gave no hints during a separate House hearing on Thursday.

“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,” he said.