There were several times over the past 4-5 years when we thought we would never hear from “Sloppy” Steve Bannon again. Obviously, he isn’t finished trying to inflict fascism on the world. Yesterday— just as jury selection in his criminal trial for contempt of Congress was about to begin— he and Trump cooked up a waiver of Trump’s claims to a non-existent executive privilege power. Bannon, who is likely to get a 2 year prison sentence and some heavy fines, sent a letter to the select committee offering to testify after all, citing, as Politico reported, “an accompanying letter from Trump himself purporting to ‘waive’ executive privilege over Bannon’s testimony— a privilege that the committee and Justice Department say was never properly invoked and might not be applicable to a former president.”
Last night Luke Broadwater and Maggie Haberman reported that “The committee and the Justice Department have long maintained that Trump has no valid claim of executive privilege over Bannon’s testimony, in part because Bannon left the White House in 2017 and was a private citizen when he was involved in Trump’s efforts to hold on to power after the 2020 election.”
“When you first received the subpoena to testify and provide documents, I invoked executive privilege,” Trump wrote in his letter to Bannon on Saturday. “However, I watched how unfairly you and others have been treated, having to spend vast amounts of money on legal fees and all of the trauma you must be going through for the love of your country and out of respect for the office of the president.”
“Therefore,” he continued, “if you reach an agreement on a time and place for your testimony, I will waive executive privilege for you, which allows for you to go in and testify truthfully and fairly, as per the request of the unselect committee of political thugs and hacks.”
Bannon’s trial on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress is set for July 18. Each count carries a penalty of up to a year in jail and a $100,000 fine.
It remains to be seen how Bannon’s new posture will affect the criminal proceeding, and how forthcoming he will be. He could refuse to speak about certain topics, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as some other witnesses have done. But the committee has repeatedly said that it needs to hear from Bannon and receive the documents it requested from him about plans to overturn the 2020 election.
“We got the letter around midnight from his lawyer saying that he would testify, and we have wanted him to testify,” Representative Zoe Lofgren, Democrat of California and a member of the committee, told CNN on Sunday. “So the committee, of course, has not yet had a chance to discuss it, but I expect that we will be hearing from him. And there are many questions that we have for him.”
Should Bannon ultimately appear for an interview, he would give his testimony behind closed doors like hundreds of other witnesses have done, Lofgren said. The committee has carefully choreographed its public hearings to make a streamlined presentation of its case, and has worked to avoid public sparring sessions with witnesses.
For months, Bannon has been perhaps the most bombastic and strident potential witness the committee has called to testify. He refused to turn over a single document or sit for a minute of testimony. For his intransigence, the House voted in October to hold Mr. Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress.
But the panel has insisted that Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist and counselor, could help investigators better understand the Jan. 6, 2021, attack, which was meant to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory.
On his radio show on Jan. 5, 2021, Bannon promised that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” a statement that shows he “had some foreknowledge about extreme events that would occur the next day,” the committee said in a report.
Investigators have also pointed to a conversation Bannon had with Trump on Dec. 30, 2020, in which he urged him to focus his efforts on Jan. 6, the day that Congress was to make the official count of electoral votes to confirm Biden’s victory. Bannon was also present at a meeting at the Willard Hotel in Washington the day before the violence, when plans were discussed to try to overturn the results of the election the following day.
Bannon’s criminal case is just the latest against him.
Federal prosecutors indicted and arrested him in 2020 in Manhattan on charges related to money raised to promote the construction of the border wall long sought by Trump. But before facing trial, he was pre-emptively pardoned by Trump hours before the former president left office.
Jamie Raskin was on Face The Nation yesterday and when asked about Bannon’s “conditions” for testifying, Raskin said the committee’s investigators would be open to hearing from Bannon but that he wouldn’t be treated differently from any other witness. “The way that we have treated every single witness is the same, that they come in, they talk to the committee there,” he said. “If they’re going to take a deposition, they’re sworn under oath. It’s videotaped. It’s recorded, and then we take it from there.”