President Joe Biden has said anyone refusing subpoenas related to the January 6 riot investigation should be prosecuted by the Justice Department.
A reporter asked Mr Biden what his message was to those who refuse subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the US Capitol insurrection, and he responded, “I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable.”
When asked if he thought those people should be prosecuted, the President said, “I do, yes.”
His comments on Friday came after the select committee announced that it would move to refer Steve Bannon, an ally of former President Donald Trump, for criminal contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena, reported CNN.
Last week White House press secretary Jen Psaki stressed that the DoJ was fully independent in making prosecutorial decisions, telling reporters at a White House briefing: “That would be up to the Department of Justice, and it would be their purview to determine. They’re an independent agency,” she said. “They’re independent. They would determine any decision on criminal prosecutions. I’d point you to them and, of course, the committee.”
Department spokesman Anthony Coley echoed her words on Friday, saying: “The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop.”
Mr Bannon was due to give a deposition in front of the select committee on Thursday, but his lawyer informed the panel that he would not testify or provide documents until the committee reached an agreement with Mr Trump over executive privilege or a court ruled on the matter.
Committee chair Representative Bennie Thompson said in a statement: “Mr Bannon has declined to cooperate with the Select Committee and is instead hiding behind the former President’s insufficient, blanket, and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke,”
Anyone found guilty of contempt of Congress could face a fine and up to a year in jail, but historically, criminal contempt cases have taken years to prosecute and been frequently derailed by appeals and acquittals.
Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the January 6 select committee, said Mr Biden was not instructing the Department of Justice to prosecute Mr Bannon.
“The first thing he said was that the committee should aggressively enforce our right to get people’s testimony and to get the documents we’ve subpoenaed, and there’s no problem with that,” Mr Raskin said. “I also don’t have a problem with him as a citizen like me saying he hopes the Department of Justice will aggressively enforce the law so people don’t get away with committing crimes like this.”