The US House of Representatives has voted to hold Steve Bannon, an aide to former president Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating the Capitol insurrection.
In a rare show of bipartisanship on the House floor, the committee’s Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, led the floor debate along with Liz Cheney of Wyoming, one of two Republicans on the panel.
Still, the vote was 229-202 with most Republican lawmakers voting “no” despite the potential consequences for Congress if witnesses are allowed to ignore its demands.
The House vote sends the matter to the US attorney’s office in Washington, where it will now be up to prosecutors in that office to decide whether to present the case to a grand jury for possible criminal charges.
The partisan split over Mr 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 January attack on the Capitol.
Democrats have vowed to comprehensively investigate the assault in which hundreds of Trump’s supporters battered their way past police, injured dozens of officers and interrupted the electoral count certifying President Joe Biden’s victory.
Lawmakers on the investigating committee say they will move swiftly and forcefully to punish anyone who will not cooperate with the probe.
“We will not allow anyone to derail our work, because our work is too important,” Mr Thompson said ahead of the vote.
Republicans call it a “witch hunt” say it is a waste of time and argue that Congress should be focusing on more important matters.
Indiana Republican Jim Banks called the probe an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens” and said Mr Bannon is a “Democrat party boogeyman”.
Ms Cheney and Illinois Representative Adam Kinzinger are the only two Republicans on the January 6 panel.
Both have openly criticised Mr Trump and his role in fomenting the insurrection, even as other Republicans have mostly remained silent in the face of Mr Trump’s falsehoods about massive fraud in the election.
Mr Trump’s claims were rejected by election officials, courts across the country and by his own attorney general.
The January 6 committee voted 9-0 on Tuesday to recommend the contempt charges after Mr Bannon missed a scheduled interview with the panel last week, citing a letter from Mr Trump’s lawyer that directed him not to answer questions.
The committee noted that Mr Bannon did not work at the White House at the time of the attack, and that he not only spoke with Mr Trump before it but also promoted the protests on his podcast and predicted there would be unrest. On January 5, Mr Bannon said that “all hell is going to break loose”.
Lawmakers on the panel said Mr Bannon was alone in completely defying its subpoena, while more than a dozen other subpoenaed witnesses were at least negotiating with them.
“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,” Ms Cheney said ahead of the vote. “The American people deserve to know what he knew and what he did.”
Even if the Justice Department does decide to prosecute, the case could take years to play out — potentially pushing past the 2022 election when Republicans could win control of the House and end the investigation.