Less than 24 hours after the House committee investigating the 6 January Capitol insurrection unanimously recommended criminal contempt charges be brought against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, Democrats are moving quickly to bring the committee’s report up for a vote by the full House of Representatives, while another key witness is lawyering up.
House Democratic Caucus Vice-Chair Pete Aguilar on Wednesday announced that the House will take up a contempt resolution based on the select committee’s report, which if approved by the full body will be “certified” by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the Justice Department, at which point it will be Attorney General Merrick Garland’s choice as to whether he orders Acting District of Columbia US Attorney Channing Phillips to present the case against Mr Bannon grand jury.
House Democrats are expected to spend just one hour debating the measure before voting on Thursday.
Mr Aguilar said he and his Democratic colleagues “fully expect the US attorney to honour their duty” by giving the grand jury a chance to vote on an indictment for the former Trump adviser, who on 5 January reportedly told listeners of his War Room podcast that “all hell” would “break loose” the next day, when Congress was set to count electoral votes and certify President Joe Biden’s electoral college win.
Mr Bannon, who last month received a subpoena ordering him to provide the select committee with documents and testimony pertaining to his communications with the Trump White House in the days leading up to what became the worst attack on America’s legislature since British forces set fire to Washington in 1814.
The former Breitbart News executive has so far refused to cooperate with the committee, citing directives from counsel to former president Donald Trump, who have directed Mr Bannon not to provide documents or testimony on the grounds that they are shielded by executive privilege, a legal doctrine which protects communications between the president and his advisers.
Other ex-Trump administration officials — including former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, ex-Deputy Chief of Staff Daniel Scavino, and former Defence Department official Kash Patel — have also received similar subpoenas from the committee.
According to a source familiar with the committee’s deliberations, Messrs Meadows, Patel, and Scavino have all chosen to engage with the committee, though the source did not rule out future contempt proceedings if discussions with the witnesses are not fruitful.
Mr Patel, a Trump loyalist who the former president floated for possible acting appointments to head the FBI or CIA before backing down due to fierce opposition from top officials at both agencies, appears to be taking a somewhat aggressive posture towards the committee’s work — at least publicly.
A page on the GOP-aligned fundraising site WinRed bearing a photo of Mr Patel with Mr Trump is currently soliciting donations to support the former Pentagon official’s legal representation under the name: “Kash Patel Legal Offense Trust”.
A statement attributed to Mr Patel says that he is “done playing defense” and vows to “fight back” if donors pay to support his legal costs.
But Mr Meadows, a former GOP congressman who resigned his North Carolina House seat to serve as Mr Trump’s chief of staff in April 2020, appears to be taking things far more seriously.
A source close to Mr Meadows said he has retained Washington, DC-based attorney George Terwilliger to represent him in dealings with the select committee.
Mr Terwilliger, who served as Deputy Attorney General during the George HW Bush administration, is currently partner at the McGuireWoods law firm where he heads the firm’s “crisis response” practice.
A veteran DC lawyer with deep roots in the conservative legal establishment and years of experience dealing with high-profile investigations, Mr Terwilliger represented George W Bush administration Attorney General Alberto Gonzales during investigations into whether politics played a role in hiring and firing at the Justice Department.
He also represented former Illinois Representative Aaron Schock after he was indicted for allegedly misusing public and campaign funds and making false statements to investigators (the charges were later dropped).
Mr Meadows engagement of Mr Terwilliger as his counsel signals that the former chief of staff is taking the matter seriously.
“You don’t hire George Terwilliger if you’re just going to stonewall,” said one prominent conservative attorney who asked for anonymity because he’s been approached to represent clients who may be contacted by the committee.
Donald Ayer, another veteran of the George HW Bush-era Justice Department who served as Deputy Attorney General several years before Mr Terwilliger, called the former Justice Department official a “substantive person”.
Mr Meadows’ decision to hire him, Mr Ayer said, “may suggest” that the ex-congressman is taking “a fact-oriented approach” to his engagement with his former colleagues.
Norm Eisen, the former White House ethics lawyer who served as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during Mr Trump’s first impeachment, told The Independent that Mr Terwilliger’s involvement indicates Mr Meadows understands the seriousness of the situation.
“Terwilliger is a real lawyer, he knows how this decision making looks within the government, and he knows that Meadows has serious criminal exposure if he does not do the right thing,” Mr Eisen said.
He added that the former Justice Department official’s involvement makes it “more likely than not” that Mr Meadows will try to strike some sort of deal with the committee, but said Mr Terwilliger “could also be there to fight if it goes to a court battle”.
Representatives for Mr Meadows and Mr Terwilliger did not immediately respond to requests for comment from The Independent.