Steven Bannon has been indicted on two counts of Contempt of Congress. Each carries a possible sentence of up to year. Each carries a potential fine between $100 and $1000. It seems like a pittance, traffic court level stuff.
But it is an important development. It restores teeth to Congressional subpoenas. That in turn makes possible Congressional oversight. Which, ultimately, is critical if we are to maintain the checks and balances we expect within our government.
Further, by indicting Bannon, a message is sent to the others who were behind the January 6th coup attempt. Almost certainly those, like former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, who announced they would blow off Congress and ignore their legal obligation to cooperate, will rethink their positions. Months in jail may not seem like much. But how many of these people are willing to go to jail for Donald Trump? How many want a criminal record or a conviction as the first line of their obituary.
The Bannon decision took far too long. The Department of Justice has been painfully slow to hold Trump and his cronies accountable for their crimes. But it is a step in a positive direction for those who want to understand the truth about what happened on January 6th.
Similarly, the decision by the DC Circuit Court to hold an expedited hearing on Trump’s appeal of this week’s ruling that he must provide requested information to the January 6th commission is also an encouraging sign that those who masterminded the January 6th attack on the Capitol may soon have their day in the dock. At least a sign we will better understand what happened that dark day in our history and why.
There are no guarantees the appeal will go the way the decision handed down by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia did. Judge Chutkan smacked down Trump’s effort to keep documents requested by the Congress secret and she did so with a speed the DoJ would do well to emulate. She clearly understood the Trump game is to run out the clock on these hearings, to drag them on until perhaps a GOP majority in the House deep sixes them post next November’s elections. So she moved with speed and at the same time did not pull any punches. “Presidents are not kings and plaintiff is not president,” she wrote in her decision. She was not having any of the arguments of Trump’s lawyers that Trump was entitled to executive privilege protections even if the current president said he was not (which has been the legal standard for determining what is protected and what is not.)
To date, Trump has been held to account for precious few of his manifold crimes and abuses. Most notably we have just passed the one year anniversary of Trump’s promulgation of “the big Lie” that the forty-fifth president had actually won last year’s election and still he has not paid any price for his efforts to undercut and jeopardize for all time our democracy.
But this week, there are signs of movement. Not enough by any measure. And none with any guarantee that justice will be done. But the playing field has shifted a bit. In the days ahead it will be interesting to see to what extent these developments produce progress in Congress’ investigation. But it is hard to imagine that some in Trump’s orbit are not seeing the handwriting on the wall.
Perhaps now they will do what they failed to a year ago and they will start to tell the truth and recognize their obligations to the American people and the primacy of our system of government and justice.
Perhaps. Because we also heard today from Trump himself. A release of tapes made by ABC news journalist Jonathan Karl while preparing his book “Betrayal” revealed the former president defended the insurrectionists who were calling for Vice President Mike Pence to be hanged. “It’s common sense, Jon,” Trump said, “It’s common sense that you’re supposed to protect. How can you—if you know a vote is fraudulent, right?—how can you pass on a fraudulent vote to Congress.” Trump then went on to suggest that the rioters were doing the right thing whereas Pence was not.
Which should be a stark reminder that this week’s legal progress, while notable, is not commensurate with the degree of the threat posed by our last chief executive and those around him.