GOP Reps. Upton, Meijer vote to hold Trump ally Bannon in contempt of Congress

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Two west Michigan lawmakers were among nine House Republicans who voted with Democrats on Thursday to hold Steve Bannon, an ally of former President Donald Trump, in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena.

Steve Bannon.

GOP U.S. Reps. Fred Upton of St. Joseph and Peter Meijer of Grand Rapids Township broke with the majority of their party by voting yes on the measure. 

Thursday's vote came after the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack voted 9-0 to recommend the contempt charges after Bannon skipped an interview with the panel last week. 

Meijer noted in a statement that Bannon had refused to comply with a valid subpoena from a congressional committee while claiming "broad" executive privilege.

"There exists no conceivable interpretation of executive privilege that would encompass an individual outside of government conferring with senior government officials on non-official matters," Meijer said.

“Holding individuals who refuse to comply with congressional subpoenas in contempt is the sole recourse available to Congress to protect its power of inquiry (McGrain v. Daughtery). I voted today to hold Mr. Bannon in contempt of Congress to protect this power."

The five other Michigan Republicans in Congress voted no, and all seven Michigan Democrats voted yes. The final House vote was 229-202.

"This vote goes beyond politics," tweeted Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Detroit. "It upholds our tradition as a nation of laws that no one is above. Anyone who impedes the pursuit of justice for the attack on our democracy and degradation of our Capitol this January must be held accountable."

The House vote comes about nine months after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Both Upton and Meijer have criticized Trump for his role in instigating the violent riot, and they were among 10 House Republicans who later voted to impeach him. 

The Bannon matter will now be referred to the U.S. attorney’s office in Washington, D.C., for prosecutors to decide whether to present his case to a grand jury to review for potential criminal charges.

"No one is above the law. That has always been one of my guiding tenants," Upton said in a statement. "January 6th was a terrible day here in the nation’s capital, and that episode needs answers to the many questions still outstanding." 

While he didn't vote for the creation of this Jan. 6 committee, Upton noted that its vote to support the subpoena for Bannon had bipartisan support on the panel from its two Republican members. 

Upton also highlighted his two previous votes during the Obama administration to hold officials in contempt of Congress when they either refused to turn over documents (former Attorney General Eric Holder) or to cooperate with a congressional inquiry (Lois Lerner). 

"It will be up to the Department of Justice to proceed," Upton said. "The Nation is watching.”

U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Holland, explained his no vote by saying he does not support or believe in the legitimacy of how the Jan. 6 commission was formed or is currently operating.

"I am very concerned this vote will erode the ability of Congress to enforce legitimate subpoenas in the future," Huizenga said in a statement. "Instead of trying to score political points, this commission should be looking at ways to improve capitol security.”

Bannon, a former adviser and strategist for Trump, has cited a directive from Trump's attorney instructing him not to answer questions. But the Jan. 6 committee has pointed out that Bannon no longer worked at the White House on Jan. 6, so his responses to the committee would not be covered by the executive privilege claimed by Trump. 

In the days before Jan. 6, Bannon on his podcast had talked up the protests and said that “all hell is going to break loose."

Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Jan. 6 panel, said Bannon was part of a “war room” that met at the Willard Hotel the night before the  attack, and that Bannon reportedly spoke with Trump several times in the days and weeks leading up to Jan. 6. 

"We’re not asking to talk to Steve Bannon on a whim," Thompson told the House Rules Committee on Wednesday. "We’re doing it because we believe he has first-hand, specific knowledge that the Congress needs to have to conduct our investigation."

During debate on the House floor, Indiana Rep. Jim Banks said the committee's inquiry is an “illicit criminal investigation into American citizens,” and that Bannon is a “Democrat Party boogeyman."

The Associated Press contributed.