Can the Jan. 6 committee overcome Trump's stonewalling?

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“The 360” shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories and debates.

What’s happening

The House of Representatives voted Thursday to hold former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for his refusal to cooperate with its investigation into the Jan. 6 insurrection. The Justice Department will now decide whether to pursue criminal prosecution against Bannon.

The vote is the committee’s most aggressive step so far to overcome efforts by former President Donald Trump and his political allies to stymie its inquiry into the events surrounding the attack on the Capitol. Earlier this month, the former president instructed Bannon and three Trump administration aides to defy subpoenas from the committee. Trump also filed a lawsuit to block the committee from accessing a trove of archived documents from his time in office, claiming they fall under the presidential power to keep certain things confidential, known as executive privilege.

The committee, made up of seven Democrats and just two Republicans, has a broad mandate to investigate the “facts, circumstances, and causes” of the Jan. 6 assault, in which a mob of Trump supporters breached the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election win. Since the committee’s inception, congressional Republicans have almost uniformly opposed its efforts. Only nine of the 212 GOP House members voted in favor of holding Bannon in contempt.

Why there’s debate

A key question going forward is whether the former president and his Republican allies can successfully prevent the committee from getting information and details about Trump’s actions before, during and after the Jan. 6 attack.

Many experts argue that since Trump is now out of office, his power to block the committee is limited. Most legal analysts say his claim of executive privilege is likely to fail — one constitutional scholar called the arguments behind his lawsuit “truly laughable.” Biden, as the current president, ultimately has final say over privilege claims, they argue. The vote against Bannon, others say, shows that the committee is willing to use the full breadth of its considerable powers to compel reticent witnesses to testify. It has already been able to get a substantial amount of information from willing witnesses and available documents.

Skeptics say Trump doesn’t need to win his legal challenges for them to effectively stifle the inquiry. A drawn-out legal battle over the executive privilege claim or Bannon’s subpoena could mean the investigation can’t be completed before the 2022 midterms, when Republicans could reclaim the House majority and potentially disband the committee. Others argue that, even if the committee does get everything it wants, the GOP will almost certainly block any substantive action to punish Trump or shore up election laws based on its findings.

What’s next

Attorney General Merrick Garland has declined to comment on whether the Justice Department will criminally prosecute Bannon, telling Congress only that it will “apply the facts and the law” to the case. If convicted, Bannon could face up to one year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

Perspectives

Democrats have tremendous power to get the information they want

“Today, with both the select committee and the Biden administration determined to use the full force of the law to uncover the truth about Jan. 6, it’s only a matter of time before Steve Bannon is either before the committee or behind bars.” — Bill Press, The HiIl

Trump can kill the investigation simply by delaying

“Trump is a master of using the courts to his own advantage, particularly as a stalling tactic, and this move could pay off more than one way. … By the time of any resolution, the Democrats may have lost Congress and the matter could simply vanish.” — Aziz Huq, Politico

The investigation will prove to be a reckoning for Trump and his allies

“The committee could achieve a major breakthrough. With the right legal incentives — sweeping information and document requests and orders, subpoenas issued and enforced, testimony under oath — some of Washington’s biggest liars may meet their match.” — Harry Litman, Los Angeles Times

Committee members aren’t showing the sense of urgency they need to have

“The January 6 commission needs to step up the pace and sharpen its focus. Time is of the essence.” — Frida Ghitis, CNN

Nothing substantive will come from chasing Trump’s allies

“They want to be here. They want to be Trump defenders. They want to be seen as somehow being important players in Jan. 6. … I think what will ultimately unfold here is this was chaos, mayhem, disorganized and that nobody was really representing Donald Trump, except as always, Donald Trump.” — Michael Wolff, political journalist, MSNBC

Courts will swiftly reject Trump’s privilege claim

“To put it another way, an ex-president’s generalized interest in confidentiality is always going to be outweighed by the need to defend American democracy against violent mobs attempting to stage insurrections.” — Chris Truax, Bulwark

Bannon could successfully keep the committee in the dark

“It is true that, if Bannon and perhaps others persist, they may be able to undermine some of these essential functions of legislative oversight by keeping crucial information out of the committee’s hands.” — Josh Chafetz, NBC News

The presidency gives Biden ultimate say about which documents are released

“Luckily, Biden is in the handy position of being president of the United States and in possession of the documents in question. He can simply publish them on the White House website. Trump's despicable lies about executive privilege will be thrown in the trash, where they belong, as a fait accompli, and the public can learn about his administration's plots alongside the House committee.” — Ryan Cooper, The Week

The committee already has access to everything it needs to doom Trump

“In short, no one should underestimate the effectiveness of the Jan. 6 committee. It has already exceeded meager expectations and will, I am confident, turn over more stones. What it finds will probably deepen our understanding of Trump’s determination to pull off a coup and the involvement of his cronies.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post

GOP opposition means nothing will change regardless of what the committee finds

Needless to say, a party this deeply committed to the absolute exoneration of Trump by definition does not see this effort to overthrow U.S. democracy as worthy of any national reckoning. The party won’t support any reforms — such as fixing ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act — to prevent it from happening again.” — Greg Sargent, Washington Post

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Photo illustration: Yahoo News; photos: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images, Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images (2), Spencer Platt/Getty Images, Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images, Getty Images

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