Bannon, facing jail and fines, agrees to testify before January 6 panel

WASHINGTON — Ahead of his criminal trial for contempt of Congress, Stephen K. Bannon, an ally of former President Donald J. Trump who was involved in his plans to void the 2020 election, told the committee of the Chamber charged with investigating the attack on the Capitol which he is now prepared to testify, according to two letters obtained by The New York Times.

His decision is a remarkable about-face for Mr. Bannon who, until Saturday, had been among the most stubborn and provocative of the committee’s potential witnesses. He had promised to turn the criminal case against him into a “hellish offence” for the Ministry of Justice.

But with the possibility of two years in prison and hefty fines looming, Mr. Bannon was allowed to testify by Mr. Trump, his lawyer told the committee in a letter late Saturday.

The former president had previously asked Mr. Bannon and other associates not to cooperate with the panel, claiming that executive privilege – the president’s power to withhold certain inside information from the executive, in particular confidential communications concerning him or his main collaborators – obliged them to keep silent. . But in recent days, as several witnesses have come forward to offer the House panel damning testimony about his conduct, Mr. Trump has grown frustrated that one of his fiercest defenders has yet to appear before the committee. , said people close to him.

“Mr. Bannon is prepared to, and indeed prefers, to testify at your open court hearing,” wrote Robert J. Costello, Mr. Bannon’s attorney, to Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat and chairman of the committee.

Mr. Costello said Mr. Bannon’s decision to comply with the committee’s subpoena came after he was allowed to testify by Mr. Trump. He provided the panel with a letter that Mr. Trump sent to Mr. Bannon on Saturday that waived any claim of executive privilege over that testimony.

The committee and the Justice Department have long maintained that Mr. Trump has no valid claim of executive privilege over Mr. Bannon’s testimony, in part because Mr. Bannon left the White House in 2017 and was a mere citizen when he was involved in Mr. Trump’s efforts to retain power after the 2020 election.

“When you first received the subpoena to testify and provide documents, I claimed executive privilege,” Mr. Trump wrote in his letter to Mr. Bannon on Saturday. “However, I have seen how unfairly you and others have been treated, having to spend large sums of money on legal fees and all the trauma you have to go through for the love of your country and out of respect for the president’s office.”

“Therefore,” he continued, “if you come to an agreement on a time and place for your testimony, I will waive executive privilege for you, which allows you to come in and testify honestly and fairly. , as requested by the deselect committee of political thugs and hacks.

Mr Bannon’s trial on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress is scheduled for July 18. Each count carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a fine of $100,000.

It remains to be seen how Mr Bannon’s new posture will affect the criminal proceedings and how open he will be. He might refuse to talk about certain topics, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as other witnesses have done. But the committee has repeatedly said it must hear from Mr Bannon and receive the documents he has requested about plans to cancel the 2020 election.

“We got the letter around midnight from his attorney saying he would testify, and we wanted him to testify,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat and committee member, told CNN on Sunday. “So the committee, of course, hasn’t had a chance to discuss it yet, but I expect we will hear from him. And there are a lot of questions we have for him.

If Mr. Bannon did eventually show up for an interview, he would give his testimony behind closed doors like hundreds of other witnesses have done, Ms. Lofgren said. The committee carefully choreographed its public hearings to make a streamlined presentation of its case, and tried to avoid public sparring sessions with witnesses.

For months, Mr. Bannon was perhaps the most pompous and outspoken potential witness the committee had called to testify. He refused to hand over a single document or sit down 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 insisted that Mr. Bannon, the former chief strategist and adviser to Mr. Trump, could help investigators better understand the January 6, 2021 attack, which was intended to prevent certification of victory of President Biden.

On his January 5, 2021 radio show, Mr Bannon promised that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”, a statement which shows he “had some foreknowledge of the extreme events that would occur the next day”, the committee said. in a report.

Investigators also pointed to a conversation Mr. Bannon had with Mr. Trump on Dec. 30, 2020, in which he urged him to focus his efforts on Jan. 6, the day Congress was due to officially count the votes. elections to confirm Mr. Biden’s victory. Mr 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 election results the next day.

Mr. Bannon’s criminal case is only the latest against him.

Federal prosecutors indicted and arrested him last year in Manhattan on charges related to money raised to promote construction of the border wall long sought after by Mr. Trump. But before facing trial, he was preemptively pardoned by Mr Trump hours before the former president left office.

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