President Biden said Friday that the Justice Department should pursue criminal charges against anyone who declines to respond to a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the deadly Jan. 6 riot at the US Capitol.
“I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable criminally,” Biden told reporters on the White House South Lawn as he returned from a trip to Connecticut.
When asked: “Should they be prosecuted by the Justice Department?,” the president answered: “I do, yes.”
Biden’s statement came one day after committee chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) announced that the panel would move forward with a vote to begin contempt proceedings against former Trump White House strategist Steve Bannon, who was slapped with a subpoena last month.
Bannon’s lawyer claimed in a letter to the committee on Wednesday that his client was “not required to respond” to the subpoena because former President Donald Trump says their communications are protected by executive privilege.
In response, Thompson accused Bannon of “hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke,” adding: “We reject his position entirely.”
“The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas, so we must move forward with proceedings to refer Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt,” Thompson said.
The committee has issued subpoenas to 19 people requesting documents and testimony, including Bannon, former Trump White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, and 11 organizers of the “Stop the Steal” rally. That rally precipitated the storming of the Capitol by hundreds of protesters attempting to prevent congressional certification of Biden’s electoral victory.
The violence resulted in the deaths of five people, including Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick and Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt.
While federal prosecutors typically enjoy a great deal of discretion when it comes to such cases, Biden’s public belief that the DOJ should seek contempt indictments threatens to undermine his campaign promise that the department would have complete independence.
“We need to restore the honor, the integrity, the independence of the DOJ of this nation that has been so badly damaged,” Biden said in January when he introduced Merrick Garland as his nominee for to be attorney general.
“I want to be clear to those who lead this department who you will serve,” he added. “You won’t work for me. You are not the president’s or the vice president’s lawyer. Your loyalty is not to me. It’s to the law, the Constitution, the people of this nation.”