WASHINGTON — The House voted Wednesday to hold two former aides to Donald Trump in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol by a pro- Trump.
The 220-203 vote results in criminal referrals to the Justice Department, which will decide to charge former director of commerce and manufacturing Peter Navarro and former White House communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr. with offenses that could result in up to one year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000.
During Wednesday’s floor debate, Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, D-Miss., chairman of the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, said Navarro and Scavino “must be held accountable. for their disregard for the law”.
“Even if you do it in your spare time, trying to nullify an election is still trying to nullify an election,” Thompson said, adding, “This kind of cynical behavior as we investigate a violent insurgency is simply despicable. This cannot Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro have to be held accountable for their abuses of the public trust.
Republicans countered by accusing Democrats of targeting their political opponents — despite the bipartisan nature of the Jan. 6 select committee.
“Today’s vote is not about wrongdoing, and it’s not about anyone’s character, no matter what they say,” said Rep. Jim Banks, R-Ind. “Today’s vote is about the character of this House. It’s about abusing the seat of our democracy to attack American democracy.”
At one point in the debate, Banks suggested that for Democrats it “could be really nice – and vindictively – to vote to put their political opponents behind bars.” He was quickly rebuffed by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., one of two Republicans serving on the select committee.
“It’s sad and tragic that so many in my own party refuse to address the constitutional crisis and the challenge we face,” said Cheney, who was ousted from her House GOP leadership position l year for his criticism of Trump. false electoral declarations.
Cheney also noted that the committee conducted “more than 800 witness interviews and depositions” with knowledge of the events of January 6, 2021.
In recent weeks, frustrations have built up within the committee over the Justice Department’s inaction on its latest criminal referral.
People familiar with the matter said the Justice Department had committee staff members who sought to understand prosecutors’ views on the referrals. The department has yet to act on a December House vote supporting contempt charges against former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.
That has stalled lawmakers trying to impose subpoenas on members of Trump’s inner circle as the committee works to launch hearings in May. The individuals spoke on condition of anonymity to speak freely about private discussions.
“There’s definitely frustration on the committee that we’re not getting more from the DOJ,” said a person involved in the investigation. “But there aren’t many ideas of what exactly we can do.”
The committee’s frustrations with the Justice Department recently boiled over into public, as Attorney General Merrick Garland did not say whether he would take steps to indict Meadows, who is considered a key witness as a former warden. and Trump’s top aide.
By adding referrals for Scavino and Navarro, lawmakers are making a bet. The move could pressure the Justice Department to press charges — but if that doesn’t work, it could also make the committee’s subpoenas to top Trump aides just as toothless.
Garland dismissed the committee’s criticism last week at a news conference, telling reporters he would not rush the Justice Department’s investigation into the attack on the US Capitol.
Asked again Wednesday about the delay in ruling on Meadows and criticism that the Justice Department’s lack of action could render Congressional subpoenas ineffective, Garland said only that prosecutors would “follow the facts and law.
“We no longer comment on investigations,” Garland said.
Committee members complained privately and publicly about the Justice Department’s silence, fearing that Garland’s silence could seriously hamper their investigation.
“The Department of Justice has a duty to act on this referral and others we have sent,” Rep. Adam B. Schiff, D-California, said last week. “Without enforcement of Congressional subpoenas, there is no scrutiny, and without scrutiny, no accountability – for the former president, or any other president, past, present, or future. Without enforcement of his legal process , Congress ceases to be an equal branch of government.”
But political pressure could also backfire as the Justice Department seeks to maintain its independence.
Representative Jamie B. Raskin, D-Md., was one of the few lawmakers on the panel who refused to criticize Garland, telling reporters last week that he was deeply committed to restoring “the tradition of respect and ‘independence of law enforcement‘. a function.”
“That’s one of the things that was trashed during the Trump era,” Raskin added. “So I think Congress and the President should let the Justice Department and the Attorney General do their job… Attorney General Garland is my constituent, and I don’t beat my constituents.”