Thompson & Cheney Opening Statements at Select Committee Business Meeting
- As Delivered -
Washington—Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS) and Vice Chair Liz Cheney (R-WY) this evening delivered the following statements at a business meeting during which the Select Committee adopted a report recommending that the house of representatives cite Stephen K. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress:
Chairman Thompson: “Let me start by saying that it gives me no joy that I’ve been forced to call this meeting. I think my colleagues feel the same way. The expectation of this Committee is that all witnesses will cooperate with our investigation. Witnesses who have been subpoenaed have a legal obligation to do so.
“And when you think about what we’re investigating—a violent attack on the seat of our democracy perpetrated by fellow citizens, on our Constitution—an attempt to stop the certification of an election—it’s shocking to me—shocking—that anyone would not do everything in their power to assist our investigation.
“So it’s a shame that Mr. Bannon has put us in this position. But we won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. We believe Mr. Bannon has information relevant to our probe, and we’ll use the tools at our disposal to get that information. I expect that the House will quickly adopt this referral to the Justice Department and that the U.S. Attorney will do his duty and prosecute Mr. Bannon for criminal contempt of Congress.
“Our goal is simple: we want Mr. Bannon to answer our questions. We want him to turn over whatever records he possesses that are relevant to the Select Committee’s investigation. The issue in front of us today is our ability to do our job.
“It’s about fulfilling our responsibilities according to House Resolution 503: to provide the American people answers about what happened on January 6th and help ensure nothing like that day ever happens again. We fulfill our responsibility by discovering the facts behind the January 6th attack so that Congress can consider legislation with a full understanding of the activities that led to an attack on Congress itself.
“I want to make it clear just how isolated Mr. Bannon is in his refusal to cooperate with the Select Committee. We have reached out to dozens of witnesses. We are taking in thousands of pages of records. We are conducting interviews on a steady basis. This is the shoe-leather work of conducting a serious, focused investigation. It’s not flashy. But it gets results. It is essential that we get Mr. Bannon’s factual and complete testimony in order to get a full accounting of the violence of January 6th and its causes.
“Mr. Bannon stands alone in his complete defiance of our subpoena. That’s not acceptable. No one in this country, no matter how wealthy or how powerful, is above the law. Left unaddressed, this defiance may encourage others to follow Mr. Bannon down the same path.
“For folks watching at home this evening, I want you to think about something. What would happen to you if you did what Mr. Bannon is doing?
“If you were a material witness in a criminal prosecution or some other lawsuit, what would happen if you refused to show up? Do you think you’d be able to just go on about your business?
“We all know the answer to that.
“There isn’t a different set of rules for Mr. Bannon. He knows this. He knows that there are consequences for outright defiance. And he’s chosen the path toward criminal contempt by taking this position.
“And there are bigger matters at stake. One of the major questions the Select Committee is dealing with is whether the rule of law will be able to endure as a pillar of American democracy. After all, we’ve seen the rule of law put to the test repeatedly in our recent past.
“While we don’t know all the facts, we do know that there was a powerful push to overturn the legitimate results of the 2020 election. Americans have been—and continue to be—lied to about that. We know that ultimately, there was a violent attack that interfered with the peaceful transfer of power from one President to another. We know that lies about the outcome of that election haven’t gone away.
“And now we have a key witness who is flat-out refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena and cooperate with our investigation. The rule of law remains under attack right now.
“If there’s no accountability for these abuses—if there are different sets of rules for different types of people—then our democracy is in serious trouble.
“As Chair of this Committee, I won’t allow further harm through the rule of law in the course of our work.
“Mr. Bannon will comply with our investigation or he will face the consequences.
“Maybe he’s willing to be a martyr to the disgraceful cause of whitewashing what happened on January 6th—or demonstrating his complete loyalty to the former President. So I want other witnesses to understand something very plainly: if you’re thinking of following the path Mr. Bannon has gone down, you’re on notice that this is what you’ll face.
“The process we’ve begun tonight is a grave one. It seldom happens, and we’d rather avoid it altogether. But it is not reserved just for Steve Bannon. If other witnesses defy this Committee—if they fail to cooperate—we will be back in this room, with a new report, with the names of whoever else mistakenly believes that they are above the law.
“We hope no other witnesses put themselves in the situation Mr. Bannon has through his own conduct. But we cannot allow anyone to stand in the way of the Select Committee as we work to get to the facts. The stakes are just too high.
“We won’t be deterred. We won’t be distracted. And we won’t be delayed.
“I urge my colleagues to support the favorable adoption of this report.”
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Vice Chair Cheney: “On January 6th, a mob breached the security perimeter of our Capitol, assaulted and injured more than 140 police officers, engaged in hand-to-hand violence over an extended period, and invaded and occupied the United States Capitol building, all in an effort to halt the lawful counting of electoral votes and reverse the results of the 2020 election.
“The day before this all occurred—on January 5th—Mr. Bannon publicly professed knowledge that ‘[a]ll hell is going to break lose tomorrow.’ He forecast that the day would be ‘extraordinarily different’ than what most Americans expected. He said to his listeners and his viewers on the air: ‘[S]o many people said, “if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.” [W]ell, this is your time in history.’
“Based on the Committee’s investigation, it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans. Mr. Bannon was in the war room at the Willard on January 6th. He also appears to have detailed knowledge regarding the President’s efforts to sell millions of Americans the fraud that the election was stolen. In the words of many who participated in the January 6th attack, the violence that day was in direct response to President Trump’s repeated claims—from election night through January 6th—that he had won the election. The American people are entitled to Mr. Bannon’s first-hand testimony about all these relevant facts, but as the Chairman noted, Mr. Bannon is refusing to provide it.
“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. So far, Mr. Bannon’s excuse is that former President Trump wishes to invoke some form of Executive Privilege for a subset of the relevant topics—President Trump’s direct communications with Mr. Bannon regarding the planning for January 6th. This information should not be subject to any privilege at all. And certainly there is no basis for absolute or unqualified privilege for Presidential Communications. More important now, there is no conceivably applicable privilege that could shield Mr. Bannon from testimony on all of the many other topics identified in this Committee’s subpoena. Because he has categorically refused to appear, we have no choice but to seek consequences for Mr. Bannon’s failure to comply. Those consequences are not just important for this investigation—they are important for all congressional investigations.
“Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do; however, appear to reveal one thing: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th. And we will get to the bottom of that.
“Let me add one further thought, principally for my Republican colleagues. We all agree that America is the greatest nation on the face of God’s earth. Truth, Justice and our Constitution have made America great. Almost every one of my colleagues knows in your hearts that what happened on January 6th was profoundly wrong. You all know that there is no evidence of widespread election fraud sufficient to overturn the election; you all know that the Dominion voting machines were not corrupted by a foreign power. You know these claims are false. Yet former President Trump repeats them almost daily. He has now urged Republicans not to vote in the 2022 and 2024. This is a prescription for national self-destruction.
“I ask my colleagues, please consider the fundamental questions of right and wrong here. The American people must know what happened. They must know the truth. All of us who are elected officials must do our duty to prevent the dismantling of the rule of law, and to ensure nothing like that dark day in January ever happens again.”
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