The House select committee investigating the 6 January attack on the Capitol is prepared to tap the Justice Department to consider prosecution of former President Donald Trump’s aides should they ignore or refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas, a Democrat on the panel says.
Rep Adam Schiff, who also chairs the House Intelligence Committee, told CBS’s Face the Nation that the committee was “prepared” to take the step of recommending criminal prosecution if members of Mr Trump’s inner circle did not appear to testify and submit materials to the committee.
“We also want to make sure that these witnesses come in and testify, and we are prepared to go forward and urge the Justice Department to criminally prosecute anyone who does not do their lawful duty,” said Mr Schiff.
His threat comes as the panel released a statement last week noting that two aides, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Kash Patel, a White House official who also served as chief of staff to the acting defence secretary, were so far complying with the committee’s requests.
Mr Schiff’s warning echoed the words of the panel’s chair and vice chair, Reps Bennie Thompson and Liz Cheney, who said in their statement that the committee “will not allow any witness to defy a lawful subpoena or attempt to run out the clock, and ... will swiftly consider advancing a criminal contempt of Congress referral.”
One other aide, former Breitbart News chief Steve Bannon, was indicating “that he will try to hide behind vague references to privileges of the former President”, the committee added in its statement.
Dan Scavino, the president’s former communications director, was also targeted by a subpoena and until Sunday was successful at evading its service; it has yet to be reported whether he will invoke claims of privilege or submit evidence and testimony to the panel.
Mr Bannon served as “chief strategist” in the early days of the Trump administration before being ousted by former Chief of Staff John Kelly years before the 6 January insurrection, although it was reported by news outlets that Mr Bannon reentered the president’s circle of advisers in the weeks leading up to the attack on the Capitol as the former president pushed his false claims of election fraud.
The White House, now under the control of President Joe Biden, stated in recent days that it will not honor claims of presidential privilege from members of the Trump administration. Still, the former president has vowed to financially support his loyalists if they do battle against the bipartisan House panel in court.
He has also sent a letter, through his attorneys, to those targeted by the subpoenas which according to Politico included a promise to “defend these fundamental privileges in court”, referring to the former president’s claim that executive privilege protects all the evidence sought by the committee.
“Executive privilege will be defended, not just on behalf of President Trump and his administration, but also on behalf of the office of the president of the United States and the future of our nation,” said a spokesperson for the former president.
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