Analysis: New January 6 subpoenas increase pressure on Merrick Garland to lead by example with Steve Bannon

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In order for the committee to maintain hope for convincing testimony from the group, it may be necessary for the Justice Department to prosecute another Trump adviser, Steve Bannon, who has previously defied a subpoena. The former president’s populist alter ego has earned a rare contempt of Congress quote for his intransigence. But two and a half weeks later, the department has yet to say whether it will act on that gamble and indict Bannon through the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Washington, DC. Without such a move, the committee’s enforcement capacity appears in serious doubt as it rushes to conclude before Democrats risk losing the House of Representatives in next year’s midterm elections. .

There are no current and public signs that Garland is feeling any pressure to act quickly. In fact, a deliberative process would be in line with his efforts to shield the Department from politicization after Trump armed it to protect himself during a scandal-plagued presidency and his efforts to steal the 2020 election. But that means Also that the new batch of six Trump confidants, who have been subpoenaed for their alleged role in amplifying Trump’s lie about voter fraud or complicity in his coup attempt earlier this year, have reasons to reproduce the obstruction, at least for the time being. And even if Bannon is sued, a lengthy process of court cases and appeals could bog the committee into a legal nightmare.

Such a scenario would not only allow Trump’s aides to foil the committee’s efforts to uncover the truth about the most egregious attack on a US election in modern history. This could destroy the power of Congress in the future and limit its constitutional role as a check and balance on the executive. And it would also mean that Trump, who prompted a crowd to march past Congress and disrupt President Joe Biden’s certification of electoral victory, would once again elude an account, even as he and his party’s newspaper on his autocratic leanings ahead of a likely candidacy for the 2024 GOP nomination. Trump’s orbit’s refusal to submit to scrutiny is nothing new; this was a feature of both his indictments, including during the insurgency earlier this year.
The six subpoenas issued on Monday targeted Conservative lawyer John Eastman, former New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik, Trump campaign officials Bill Stepien, Jason Miller and Angela McCallum, and former councilor to National Security Michael Flynn. The list includes some of Trump’s most staunch loyalists. Flynn and Kerik, for example, received presidential pardons. While it is possible that some members of the group would decide to speak to the committee, it would not be surprising if most refused, given the White House’s continued resistance to disclosure and accountability.

“If Merrick Garland doesn’t sue Steve Bannon, all these other witnesses … on what Merrick Garland decides to do here,” said Elie Honig, CNN legal analyst.

Garland declined to discuss his deliberations in an independent media appearance on Monday. The gap of about two weeks after Bannon’s contempt citation is hardly a life in legal terms, however, so it would be unwise to read anything about it just yet.

California Democratic Representative Adam Schiff, a member of the House Select Committee, told CNN on Monday night that the Justice Department needed time to study the case and the precedents, but said it was crucial to act to enforce congressional subpoenas.

“If the Justice Department does not hold Steve Bannon accountable, it only gives credence to the idea that some people are above the law and that may not be true in this country,” Schiff said on “Cuomo Prime Time”.

The new subpoenas follow another witness, former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark, refusing to answer questions from the committee on Friday, citing Trump’s claims about executive privilege and attorney-client privilege .

But like Bannon, the six potential witnesses called to appear on Monday were not in the service of government officials at the time of the insurgency and therefore should not be afforded any protection under the doctrine that allows presidents to rekindle advice. confidential from their official advisers. The extent to which custom applies to past presidents is also a gray area. And Biden, who now rests with final privilege rulings given his constitutional role, has refused to comply with Trump’s offer to protect hundreds of White House documents.

Trump’s latest delay tactic

But making broad assertions, and what many analysts consider frivolous, assertions of executive privilege could allow the former chairman to frustrate the committee and hamper the search for the truth for months. This would have serious implications for the US political system and the separation of powers, said former Ohio Governor John Kasich, who is also a former Republican member of Congress.

“If nothing happens, if you can just say, ‘I don’t care what you think,’ I think you’re losing your power and I think Congress needs to protect that power,” Kasich told Wolf Blitzer of CNN on “The Situation Room.”

“Now it’s around January 6th, but how many other things are going to happen and people will say, ‘I don’t have to introduce myself?'”

The committee said Monday that the six new subpoenas targeted Trump associates who helped perpetuate the lie that the 2020 election was stolen.

The January 6 committee acts on several fronts in a race against time

“The select committee needs to know all the details of their efforts to overturn the election, including who they were talking to in the White House and Congress, what ties they had to the rallies that turned into a riot and who paid for it all,” Mississippi Democrat President Bennie Thompson said in a statement.

Perhaps the most prominent member of the group is Eastman, who hatched a plan for then-Vice President Mike Pence to hold the House of Representatives election, where Republican delegations could award Trump a second term.

The committee is under pressure to produce a legal argument that it has a legislative purpose for its efforts, and some members have spoken of drafting new laws that could thwart attempts similar to the one presented by Eastman. Ultimately, Pence concluded he lacked the power to overturn the will of voters who chose Biden – much to Trump’s fury.

CNN’s KFile reported last month that Eastman told the Bannon radio show that Pence had the power to run the House election if he had “the courage and the backbone.” His memo sketched out a scenario in which the vice president ignores the votes of the Electoral College of seven states – making sure that no candidate receives the 270 Electoral College votes necessary for victory. Since each state delegation had a voice for the president, Trump would win since Republicans controlled 26 state delegations.
The subpoenas also mark a new twist in the grim and often bizarre story of Flynn, a retired lieutenant general and former head of the Defense Intelligence Agency who has turned into a vehement pro-Trump conspiracy theorist. Flynn was forced to resign as a national security adviser days after Trump took office in 2017 after lying to Pence about a call with the Russian ambassador. Trump pardoned Flynn for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the envoy from Moscow.

The committee said in the statement that it wished to question Flynn about a December 2020 meeting in the Oval Office where “attendees discussed the seizure of voting machines, the declaration of an emergency national security, the invocation of certain emergency national security powers and the continued dissemination of the false message that the November 2020 elections were marred by widespread fraud. ” According to the committee, Flynn also gave an interview to Newsmax TV and spoke about “the seizure of voting machines, foreign influence in the elections and the alleged precedent for the deployment of military troops and the proclamation of martial law. to “reorganize” the elections “.

The committee cited Miller’s presence at a self-proclaimed command center for Trump’s allies at the Willard Hotel in Washington in January. The panel also said Stepien and Miller were part of Trump’s “Stop the Steal” effort. He says he has information that McCallum may have been involved in efforts to pressure Michigan state lawmakers to overturn Biden’s Wolverine State victory. And Kerik, an associate of Trump’s former personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, has previously confirmed to CNN that he has paid for hotel rooms and suites in Washington used as “election-related command centers.” Trump pardoned Kerik for a conviction for several crimes, including tax charges.

The broad scope of Monday’s subpoenas confirms that the committee is looking beyond the events of January 6 and deepening Trump’s longer-term plot to overturn the election. But the odds that everyone subpoenaed will end up testifying before the committee seems somewhat improbable – no matter what happens to Bannon – unless the Justice Department is willing to conduct several cases against former officials. Trump who all refuse to cooperate.

In that sense, the panel – which has already interviewed 150 witnesses behind closed doors – could use subpoenas to highlight the general nature of suspicious activity in Trump’s orbit.


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