Steve Bannon casts himself as a soldier in a political movement that stands for freedom, but Congress wants to interview him about his alleged role in an effort to subvert democracy.
The former Trump strategist was asked to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection, and to provide documents related to the attack. He has refused to do so, citing claims of executive privilege made by former President Donald Trump. He ignored a congressional subpoena, was indicted last Friday for contempt of Congress, and made his first court appearance on Monday. He is facing up to a year in prison and up to $100,000 in fines.
It’s clear Bannon knew that something significant and chaotic was going to happen on Jan. 6. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he said on his podcast the day before the insurrection.
One question Congress would like to know the answer to is this: Was the “hell” Bannon mentioned a reference to procedural maneuvers by members of Congress inside the Capitol? Or was he predicting the violence that would take place outside the building?
His other comments on Jan. 5 don’t seem like they’re referring to legislators: “So many people said, ‘Man, if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history,” Bannon said on his podcast, “War Room.”
“It’s all converging, and now we’re on the point of attack tomorrow,” Bannon told his listeners. “And all I can say is: Strap in. You have made this happen, and tomorrow it’s game day.”
Bannon is reported to have played a central role, behind the scenes, in inspiring the events that led up to the insurrection. But the Jan. 6 committee is trying to understand how much of the assault on democracy was premeditated and planned in advance. Bannon’s testimony could shed light on this.
“It appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advanced knowledge of the plans for January 6th, and likely had an important role in formulating those plans,” Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., the vice chair of the select committee, said at a hearing last month. “Preserving our Constitution and the rule of law is a central purpose of this investigation. The plain fact here is that Mr. Bannon has no legal right to ignore the committee’s lawful subpoena.”
Bannon’s attorney, David Schoen, said Monday after his court appearance that Bannon cannot cooperate until the courts resolve a dispute over Trump’s invocation of executive privilege over documents at the National Archives. But former Justice Department attorney Jonathan David Shaub told Yahoo News that the Justice Department “carefully drew the [Bannon] indictment to avoid the question of privilege,” and so, “even if Bannon and Trump were right on their privilege position, Bannon could still be found guilty because he did not even show up” when subpoenaed.
Here’s what has been publicly reported so far about Bannon’s alleged role in the Jan. 6 insurrection. Much of it comes from a book by veteran journalist Bob Woodward and Robert Costa of the Washington Post, “Peril,” which was released in late September.
On Dec. 30, 2020, Bannon spoke by phone with then-President Trump, who was in Florida, and urged him to return to Washington immediately, according to “Peril.” Bannon reportedly told Trump to focus his efforts and public comments on Jan. 6, the day Congress would certify the 2020 election results.
The comments attributed to Bannon in the book, which the authors said was based on interviews with “more than 200 firsthand participants and witnesses,” indicate that Bannon was focused on sabotaging Joe Biden’s ability to govern after he took office. The idea was to make a mess of the certification process and make Trump’s followers believe Biden was not legitimately elected, despite the lack of any evidence that the 2020 election was rigged.
“We’re going to ... kill the Biden presidency in the crib,” Bannon reportedly told Trump. Woodward and Costa say any quotation is based on an interview with the person who said it or with a “colleague with direct knowledge,” or comes from “government or personal documents, calendars, diaries, e-mails, meeting notes, transcripts, and other records.”
On Dec. 30, Trump tweeted, “JANUARY SIXTH, SEE YOU IN DC!” He had already tweeted on Dec. 18 that there would be a “big protest in D.C. on January 6” and urged his followers to come: “Be there, will be wild!” And Trump did return to Washington on Dec. 31, a day after speaking to Bannon.
Over the next few days, Trump continued to spread the lie that the 2020 election was somehow not legitimate, a falsehood that had already been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked. But soon after that Dec. 30 phone call with Bannon, it appears that Trump and those around him began plotting to try to actually overturn the election results and to run roughshod over the Constitution to try to stay in power.
By Jan. 2, legal scholar John Eastman was circulating a memo he had written laying out a plan for how to defy the will of the American people and keep Trump in the presidency. The memo was, Costa told Yahoo News, something that “many people are calling a blueprint for a coup.”
Those in Trump’s orbit shifted their focus to pressuring then-Vice President Mike Pence to play a key role in this plot.
On Jan. 5, Bannon made his comments about how “all hell” would break loose the next day. Later that evening Bannon holed up at the Willard Hotel, a block from the White House and looking out onto Pershing Park, with a view down Pennsylvania Avenue of the Capitol. He was with Rudy Giuliani, the former New York City mayor who had become one of the most aggressive in pushing wild conspiracy theories about the election, as well as Jason Miller, a senior political operative on the Trump campaign, according to “Peril.”
Bannon and the others called members of Congress on the phone from their suite in the Willard to pressure them to vote against certification. Right outside, conspiracy theorist Alex Jones and longtime Trump ally Roger Stone riled up Trump supporters at an evening rally in Freedom Plaza where speakers screamed profanities from the stage, railed against the COVID-19 pandemic as a “hoax,” denounced COVID vaccines and insisted the election was stolen. MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell told the crowd, “God’s got his hands in all of this. You need to pray for our vice president to look up at God and say, ‘I need to make a decision, Lord, and to make the right decision for our country.’”
Lindell spoke of “evidence” that never existed showing a stolen election, and told the crowd that “you don’t have a war when the other side didn’t win anything. You’re not taking anything from them. They were trying to steal it from us.”
Lindell then blessed the crowd’s anger and their intent to rise up the next day with a divine sanction: “Donald Trump was picked for eight years by God, not four,” he said.
At the White House that same evening, Trump pressured Pence to stop the certification and let the House decide the election, which would keep him in power, according to “Peril.” Pence said he clearly did not have that power under the Constitution. “Well, what if these people say you do?” Trump asked him, gesturing toward the crowd gathered at Freedom Plaza.
Later that night, according to “Peril,” Bannon was present in the Willard suite when Pence’s chief of staff, Marc Short, called Miller and expressed his displeasure at a statement by Trump released by his campaign claiming that Pence had agreed to stop the certification the next day, which would throw the results into chaos and give Republicans an opportunity to strong-arm a vote in the House to keep Trump in power. Miller, with Bannon reportedly next to him, told Short that Pence “needs to be loyal.”
Trump later called Bannon to discuss his meeting with Pence, Woodward and Costa reported.
On Monday of this week, after he had been released from the federal courthouse following his court appearance, Bannon harked back to that evening at the Willard on Jan. 5. As he taped his podcast, Bannon told his listeners he was broadcasting from the very spot where he is reported to have plotted with Giuliani and Miller.
“I’m actually in the suite,” he crowed. “So they can suck on that too.”
Bannon was not seen in public on Jan. 6. But as the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Mark Milley, reflected a few days later on the events of that day, his thoughts turned in part to Bannon, and the militia groups that had assembled in the streets of D.C. on Jan. 5 and 6 and taken part in the violent assault on the Capitol.
The rioters were, Milley concluded, “a U.S. version ... of the paramilitary wing of the Nazi Party that supported Hitler,” Woodward and Costa wrote, summarizing Milley’s views as conveyed to them. “It was a planned revolution. Steve Bannon’s vision coming to life. Bring it all down, blow it up, burn it, and emerge with power.”