Some right-wing media figures used a false comparison when criticizing the Department of Justice’s charges for contempt of Congress against Steve Bannon, an adviser to former President Donald Trump during the January 6 Capitol insurrection. Their complaints that former Obama Attorney General Eric Holder wasn’t charged after being held in contempt fail to mention that Holder had actually worked to satisfy a congressional subpoena against him, while Bannon ignored his subpoena entirely.
Bannon surrendered to the FBI on November 15 and was released prior to an expected arraignment later this week with standard requirements of checking in with the court weekly, surrendering his passport, and notifying the court of any domestic travel. On November 12, the DOJ announced why he was being charged:
Stephen K. Bannon was indicted today by a federal grand jury on two counts of contempt of Congress stemming from his failure to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 breach of the U.S. Capitol.
Bannon, 67, is charged with one contempt count involving his refusal to appear for a deposition and another involving his refusal to produce documents, despite a subpoena from the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Many conservative media figures and other far-right personalities reacted to news of the indictment by comparing Bannon’s charges to the DOJ decision years earlier declining to charge Holder after a successful contempt vote against him.
- Fox News host Tucker Carlson characterized Bannon’s indictment on November 12 as an “armed political instrument” that’s “punishing critics of the Democratic Party.” Carlson also complained: “The DOJ did not charge Eric Holder after he was held in contempt, for example.”
- Fox host Sean Hannity called Bannon’s indictment an “unequal standard of justice” and asked his audience to “remember back in 2012 when Eric Holder, he was held in contempt? Why didn't the DOJ ever indict him? … But we only charge Steve Bannon?”
- Right-wing host and Turning Point USA President Charlie Kirk:
- Far-right social media troll Mike Cernovich:
- Far-right social media troll Jack Posobiec:
- Townhall columnist Kurt Schlichter:
- Newsmax host John Cardillo:
- Breitbart News senior editor-at-large Joel Pollak:
But this comparison quickly falls apart, as conservatives have repeatedly lied about the circumstances of Holder being held in contempt. In 2012, then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole explained that Holder’s DOJ went to “extraordinary lengths” to comply with a Republican subpoena over the Fast and Furious scandal, and satisfied the vast majority of the subpoena’s questions before the contempt vote (emphasis added):
The assertion in the Draft Resolution (p. 14) that the Department [of Justice] has provided documents only for 10 of the 22 subpoena items is incorrect. In fact, the Department has produced or made available for review documents responsive to 16 of the 22 subpoena items. As to 13 of these items, we delivered the documents to the [House Oversight] Committee or made them available for staff review (subpoena items 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 20, and 21). We provided access to documents responsive to three additional items (subpoena items 15, 17, and 18) in the course of briefings on sensitive law enforcement matters on October 5, 2011 and on subsequent occasions, as referenced in Section IV(C) below. We have not located any documents responsive to a 17th item (subpoena item 3). The documents responsive to the five remaining items (subpoena items 8, 9, 16, 19, and 22), as well as additional documents responsive to the other 16 items of the October 11 subpoena, pertain to sensitive law enforcement activities, including ongoing criminal investigations and prosecutions that raise significant concerns for the Department, as discussed in Section III(A) below, or are materials generated by Department officials in the course of responding to congressional investigations or media inquiries about this matter that are generally not appropriate for disclosure, as discussed in Section III(B) below.
A June 2012 Politico article, which quoted an Obama administration official, also showed that Holder and the DOJ worked hard to satisfy a subpoena:
White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said GOP congressional leaders “pushed for political theater rather than legitimate congressional oversight. Over the past fourteen months, the Justice Department accommodated congressional investigators, producing 7,600 pages of documents, and testifying at eleven congressional hearings.
In contrast to these efforts by Holder to satisfy a congressional subpoena prior to a contempt vote, Bannon simply refused to cooperate at all. As Politico reported on October 21 (emphasis added):
Democrats rejected the counterarguments lodged by Jordan and Gaetz, in part by pointing to Republicans’ own use of criminal contempt citations to punish recalcitrant witnesses in the past. Chief among those past witnesses are former Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012 and former Internal Revenue Service official Lois Lerner in 2014. In both of those cases, the officials made voluminous documents available or provided testimony to the committees before Republicans went forward with contempt.
Bannon has done neither, instead leaning on a claim of executive privilege that most legal experts see as bogus -- even if it touches on issues that may require lengthy litigation to resolve.