Will Congress Enforce the Bannon Subpoena?

The Old Man

Congress has not exercised its authority to “arrest and detain” in 100 years. Why not? Do they like being ignored?

It’s well known that there is one system of justice for the average citizen and quite another system if you’ve got the money to afford suitable legal representation. But there is yet another level of justice when it comes to constraining the behavior of our government officials.

In the impeachment inquiry of Donald Trump that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi officially announced on January 24, 2019, eight government officials or their associates ignored Congressional subpoenas.

  • Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State
  • Rudy Giuliani, personal attorney to Donald Trump
  • Mick Mulvaney, Acting White House Chief of Staff
  • Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense
  • Russell Vought, Acting Director of the Office of Management and the Budget
  • Gordon Sondland, Ambassador to the European Union
  • Rick Perry, Secretary of Energy
  • Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Giuliani associates

All of these officials ignored lawful congressional subpoenas. What were the consequences? Nothing. Congress is empowered to investigate but lacks the will to follow through and enforce their demand. Willfully ignoring a subpoena mocks the investigative powers of Congress. But when Congress fails to use its enforcement power granted by the Supreme Court, the oversight duties of Congress can be safely ignored.

A subpoena is a legally enforceable demand for documents, data, or witness testimony. Subpoenas are typically used by litigants in court cases.
The Supreme Court has recognized Congress’s power to issue subpoenas, saying in order to write laws it also needs to be able to investigate for “legitimate legislative purpose.” — Reuters

If the subpoena recipient does not comply, the House can vote to hold the individual in contempt of Congress by a majority vote. But what happens when the individual ignores the in contempt of Congress citation? There is a remedy, but Congress has not exercised that option in 100 years.

“The Supreme Court said in 1821 that Congress has “inherent authority” to arrest and detain recalcitrant witnesses.
In 1927, the high court said the Senate acted lawfully in sending its deputy sergeant-at-arms to Ohio to arrest and detain the brother of the then-attorney general, who had refused to testify about a bribery scheme known as the Teapot Dome scandal.” — Reuters

Congress has the authority to compel witnesses to testify, yet they have not done so for over 100 years. Why? There is supposed to exist a balance of power between the three branches of government. Why is Congress so lax that it would cede all power to the executive branch and let them ignore subpoenas with impunity.

Steve Bannon and the Capital Hill Riots

Steve Bannon has been subpoenaed to testify before Congress concerning his role in the January 6 Capital Hill Riots. Of course, Bannon ignored the subpoena. That’s what you do these days. Ignore it, and it will go away. Congress will never enforce it. 

Trump wants everyone who served him to ignore subpoenas citing executive privilege. But Bannon was not serving the administration in its final days — he was a private citizen. Trump fired Bannon, his chief political strategist, in August of 2017.

But miraculously, the House found Bannon in contempt of Congress, an action that had not been taken since the Reagan Administration. Now it remains to be seen if Congress will enforce their citation.

Will Congress exercise its authority to “arrest and detain” Steve Bannon, or will they lay down and watch their investigative powers diminished further? This is a pivotal moment. Will Congress act and preserve the balance of power with the executive branch, or will they cave in and cede more power and control to the executive branch? In the absence of strong Congressional oversight, when another character like Trump comes to power, he will have free rein to run roughshod over Congress.

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