Thompson & Cheney Opening Statements at Rules Committee Meeting

Oct 20, 2021

- As Delivered -

Washington—Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) this morning delivered the following statements at the Rules Committee meeting on the resolution recommending that the House of Representatives find Stephen K. Bannon in contempt of Congress:

Chairman Thompson: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Cole, and Members of the Committee.

“Last evening, the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol made a unanimous recommendation that the House of Representatives cite Stephen K. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress and refer him to the Justice Department for prosecution. I’m here this morning urging that the House quickly consider the resolution holding Mr. Bannon in contempt.

“It’s regrettable that the Select Committee—and the House—have been put in this position. But instead of complying with our probe, Mr. Bannon has chosen the path of total defiance. That’s just not acceptable.

“The Select Committee’s job is to get a full accounting of the violence of January 6th and the causes that led to that day. We’re working hard to get answers for the American people about that attack on our democracy. We’re tasked to help ensure we never see another day like that ever again by making recommendations for legislation and other actions that will help strengthen the guardrails of our democracy.

“And when we seek information from a witness, it’s because we have good reason to think that person knows something that will help us answer those questions.  We seek the facts so we may make sound legislative recommendations.

“That’s why we wanted to hear from Mr. Bannon. Since January 6th, there’s been a good deal of public reporting about his involvement in events surrounding January 6th. His own comments have suggested the same thing. “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” he said on his podcast. “It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen…. All I can say is, strap in…You made this happen and tomorrow it’s game day.  So strap in.”

“The record goes on and on. It appears from reporting that he was involved in the so-called “stop the steal” campaign from the get-go. He was part of a “war room” that met at the Willard Hotel the night before the January 6th attack. And Mr. Bannon reportedly spoke with President Trump several times in the days and weeks leading up to the January 6th attack. He apparently encouraged the President to try to interfere with the electoral vote count.

“It appears that these events are all closely tied to the riot that erupted on January 6th. We need to understand everything about them. We need the full context. We’re not asking to talk to Steve Bannon on a whim. We’re doing it because we believe he has first-hand, specific knowledge that the Congress needs to have to conduct our investigation.  Further, the American people deserve to hear from Mr. Bannon under oath.

“That’s why on September 23rd, we issued a subpoena to Mr. Bannon for records and deposition testimony. Through his lawyer, Mr. Bannon told us that he wouldn’t comply. No records. No testimony. Nothing.

“Instead, he hid behind vague claims of executive privilege purportedly made by the former President. Here’s the thing: the former President hadn’t made any claim of privilege to the Select Committee.

“But beyond that, there is no reasonable argument that what the Select Committee seeks from him is the type of information executive privilege would reach. What we want to learn from Mr. Bannon concerns his knowledge and conduct as a private citizen relating to a broad range of topics that do not involve discussion of official government matters with the President or his close advisors. The law is clear that executive privilege does not extend to communications between the President and private citizens about non-government business or between private citizens.

“And even if executive privilege reached certain documents or testimony, which is not the case here, Mr. Bannon certainly does not enjoy absolute immunity from appearing before the Select Committee. The law is clear that even top White House aides who advise the President on official government matters are not immune from compelled congressional process.

“We conveyed all this to Mr. Bannon. Two times we went back to Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, in writing, telling him that the alleged privilege claims didn’t have a leg to stand on, and that if he didn’t change course, Mr. Bannon risked a criminal contempt referral. We warned him what was coming. And he still defied our subpoena entirely.

“So it’s up to Mr. Bannon who has taken us down this path. We didn’t choose to end up here. But here we are. And we cannot allow him to defy our subpoena with impunity. Indeed, Congress cannot permit this. This institution, The House, cannot let this conduct stand. Doing so deprive our investigation of valuable information. It would send a signal that Mr. Bannon can act like he’s above the law and get away with it. And would damage this institution, the House of Representatives, by setting a dangerous precedent, giving witnesses a green light to ignore our investigative authority.

“I ask all Members of the Committee to support moving this resolution forward. I’m happy to take your questions. And I yield back the balance of my time.”

* * *

Vice Chair Cheney: “Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Cole, Rules Committee Members. We’ve been through a lot together. We’re not just colleagues, we’re friends. And I’ve served with a number of you on this committee for two years when we were in the majority. I could not have imagined then that we would meet again like this.

“A year ago today, the election was still a couple of weeks off. We all knew that it would be a tight race, but none of us, I imagine, anticipated that President Trump or any president, frankly, would simply reject the outcome of that vote. Of course, President Trump had the right to challenge the outcome in our state and federal courts, which have an appropriate and constitutional role in resolving election claims.

“But what he did thereafter had no precedent in our history. He rejected the court's rulings in dozens of cases, including the rulings of judges President Trump himself appointed. He rejected what his own Department of Justice officials told him over and over again: that they found no evidence of widespread fraud sufficient to overcome the election results. He rejected the conclusions of both the Department of Justice and the Intelligence Community when they told him that the Dominion voting machines had not secretly changed the outcome of the election.

“President Trump had no factual or constitutional basis for his claims, and the lawyers he found who would carry his fraud claims forward have paid the consequences. Rudy Giuliani's license to practice law has been suspended and Sidney Powell has been sanctioned by a federal judge. But Donald Trump persisted, attempting through every manner he could imagine to try to change the outcome, and we all saw what happened.

“The people who attacked this building told us, continue to tell us on video, on social media, and now before the federal courts, exactly what motivated them. They believed what Donald Trump said, that the election was stolen and that they needed to take action.

“The Select Committee has critical work to do to get all of the details, and today we are here to address one witness, Steve Bannon. I urge you all to watch what Steve Bannon said on his podcast on January 5th. The Chairman just quoted parts of it, and it is shocking. He said, “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. We are coming in right over the target. This is the point of attack we have always wanted.” He said, “all hell would break loose on January 6th,” and he was right. Ask the over 140 Capitol Police officers who fought for hours and were injured. And there is no doubt that Steve Bannon knows far more than he says on that video.

“The American people deserve to know what happened. They deserve to hear him answer these questions. Mr. Bannon has written to us suggesting that he's relying on the fact that President Trump wishes to assert executive privilege for his communications with Bannon regarding the planning for January 6th. We do not believe any such privilege claims are appropriate, and even if such privilege existed, it is still not absolute or unqualified.

“We are confident that we will prevail on these privilege issues. But there is a more important and more fundamental point here. The vast majority of what we need from Mr. Bannon is not even conceivably subject to an executive privilege claim. Mr. Bannon is using privilege as a pretext for not appearing at all and for producing absolutely no documents of any kind. That puts this institution's authority at significant risk, not just here and now, but in all future investigations.

“Criminal contempt is the appropriate response in these circumstances. At this moment, it is not just the institution of Congress' authority that is at stake, the potential harm to the foundation of our Republic is far more significant. In the past week, President Trump has openly urged millions of Republican voters not to vote in 2022 or 2024. He's urging them to abandon our democratic system, based on what every one of us knows are false claims about systemic fraud and Dominion voting machines.

“Let me address my Republican colleagues specifically. I've heard from a number of my colleagues in the last several days, who say they, “just don't want this target on their back, they're just trying to keep their heads down, they don't want to anger Kevin McCarthy,” the Minority Leader, who has been especially active in attempting to block the investigation of events of January 6th, despite the fact that he clearly called for such a commission the week after the attack.

“I ask each one of you to step back from the brink. I urge you to do what you know is right -- to think of the long arc of history. We are told that it bends towards justice, but it does so only because of the actions of men and women in positions of public trust. In many nations, democracy has failed because those with authority would not act to protect it because they sat in silence.

“History will judge those of us in positions of public trust. Remember that as you cast your votes, as you think about how you will answer when history asks, “what did you do when Congress was attacked, when a mob, provoked by a president, tried to use violence to stop us from carrying out our constitutional duty to count electoral votes, when a mob, provoked by a president, tried to overturn the results of an election?” Will you be able to say you did everything possible to ensure Americans got the truth about those events? Or did you look away? Did you make partisan excuses and accept the unacceptable?

“This contempt citation is crucial to our investigation. Witnesses cannot simply ignore congressional subpoenas when they prefer not to attend. We must do everything possible to understand that dark day in our history and to ensure, through potential legislative and other actions, that such a thing never happens again. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I yield back.”