Justice Department exposes Steve Bannon’s desperate ploy to derail Jan. 6 hearings

Justice Department exposes Steve Bannon’s desperate ploy to derail Jan. 6 hearings
Steve Bannon speaking at the 2017 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland, Gage Skidmore

The latest January 6 committee hearing is scheduled for tomorrow and it promises to be dramatic. From what we can gather, this will be the hearing that grapples with the actual violence of that day and will explore what Trump and his accomplices did to bring it about. The committee apparently plans to discuss the participation of armed militia types, some of whom have already been charged with seditious conspiracy by the Justice Department.

Tuesday's questioning will be led by Stephanie Murphy, D-Fl., and Jamie Raskin, D-Md., and there will be live witnesses — although only one has been named, a former spokesman for the right-wing militia group Oath Keepers. Jason Van Tatenhove will reportedly discuss the group's radicalization and attraction to Donald Trump.

On Friday, Trump's former White House Counsel Pat Cipollone testified before the committee. He may have shed some further light on what the White House did with information that was shared by virtually every government department about the potential for violence on that day. And who knows what else he had to say? Early reports suggested that Cipollone was less than helpful but the committee put out a statement over the weekend that says otherwise:

"In our interview with Mr. Cipollone, the Committee received critical testimony on nearly every major topic in its investigation, reinforcing key points regarding Donald Trump's misconduct and providing highly relevant new information that will play a central role in its upcoming hearings. This includes information demonstrating Donald Trump's supreme dereliction of duty."

That certainly sounds intriguing. And more specifically, the committee's spokesman went on to say, "Cipollone's videotaped testimony will likely be featured prominently during the final hearing."

But the big news over the weekend was that on the eve of his trial for contempt of Congress for refusing to abide by a committee subpoena, former Trump campaign chief and current podcaster Steve Bannonabruptly announced that he was ready to testify after all. He sent a letter to the committee saying that Trump had agreed to waive executive privilege and requested that he be allowed to appear in a live public hearing. (No word on whether he wanted them to remove all the brown M&Ms from the bowl in his dressing room.) Trump confirmed his "waiver" with a typically juvenile extended tweet-like statement:

"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, who have allowed no Due Process, no Cross-Examination, and no real Republican members or witnesses to be present or interviewed. It is a partisan Kangaroo Court.

Despite many in the media's credulous reporting of this news, it's not what it appears to be.

First of all, there is absolutely no reason to believe that Bannon has any intention of testifying honestly. Trump's embarrassing letter makes it clear what he expects and there's little doubt that Bannon is on exactly the same page. All you have to do is watch some of his "War Room" podcasts to know that. So any thoughts that this is a sudden change of heart are absurd. This is nothing more than a ploy to delay his impending trial, which he has been trying to do since June 30 when he requested that it be moved to October claiming that he can't get a fair hearing because of the committee hearings.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) mocked his request by pointing out that he's only been mentioned twice in the hearings for a total of 30 seconds. This gambit is designed to change that by putting him at the center of the story although it's pretty unlikely that the judge in his case won't see that.

Even if he does testify, Bannon would not be off the hook because it doesn't change the fact that he did defy the subpoena for all these months. And the notion that he had the executive privilege in the first place is daft. Although he may have been scheming with the president to overturn the election, Bannon hadn't worked in government since 2017. Even his own lawyer said that only some of the requests from the committee could fall under executive privilege. And that assumes it exists with respect to Bannon at all, which it doesn't. (In fact, it really shouldn't apply to anyone since Donald Trump isn't the president, but that seems to be in dispute in some quarters.)

Late last night the DOJ dropped a bomb with a filing that pretty much exposed Bannon's desperate little scheme.

Authorities revealed that one of Donald Trump's lawyers, Justin Clark, testified to the FBI on June 28 that Trump never invoked executive privilege for Bannon in the first place. That certainly was not helpful to Bannon's defense and it may explain why Bannon and his lawyers moved to delay his trial the next day. The filing went into all the reasons why the executive privilege claim was always specious and concludes with this slap down:

"All of the above-described circumstances suggest the Defendant's sudden wish to testify is not a genuine effort to meet his obligations but a last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability."

Usually arrogant and full of bravado, Bannon does seem to be scrambling.

Journalist Jennifer Senior, who wrote a big profile of Bannon for The Atlantic this month, tweeted this:

Intrigued to see Bannon's about-face on the J6 committee. When we were last face-to-face (3/30), he was v[ery]excited about his latest scheme: "If we execute, it'll be classic honey badger." His plan had been to subpoena the J6 committee members. Didn't get traction, obv[iously].

Then, on a 5/17 phone call, he told me (and I quote) "The 6 January Committee -- go fuck themselves." Hmmmm. Or not. And on June 7, two nights before the first J6 Committee hearing, he texted me that said hearing would be a "zzzzsnoozz fest". Not so much.

I have no clue what Bannon will say. But these hearings have clearly had more power than anyone in Trumpworld had anticipated. And the specter of prison can be very motivating.

This is Steve Bannon we're talking about, so even if he does end up testifying it's hard to imagine that the committee will learn anything of value despite the fact that he was intimately involved in the "war room" at the Willard Hotel in the days before the insurrection and seems to have been aware that something violent was going to happen. He said on his podcast that "all hell is going to break loose" long before people marched to the Capitol. But perhaps the committee has learned all it needs to know about that part of the coup plot.

We'll find out what they have in tomorrow's hearing and it's likely to be disturbing.

Extremists egged on by the likes of Bannon plotted to take over the U.S. Capitol to stop the peaceful transfer of power. That should never fail to shock. The main questions now are: "What did the president know and when did he know it?"

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