Republican Rep. Liz Cheney blasted former President Donald Trump’s ally Steve Bannon for refusing to cooperate with the House committee investigating the January 6 riot, saying that his claim of executive privilege is not only invalid, but suggests Trump was “personally involved” in the planning and execution of the events that day.
While the committee has yet to provide evidence directly linking the former President to those efforts, Cheney’s comments reflect a suspicion among members of the panel that Trump is attempting to conceal certain communications that may be incriminating.
“Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do appear to reveal one thing, however: they suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th,” Cheney said.
“And we will get to the bottom of that,” she added.
On Wednesday, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the committee’s chairman, expanded on what Cheney meant when she said that evidence suggests that Trump was “personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6.”
“I think ‘plan’ is a relative,” Thompson told CNN when asked about Cheney’s comments the night before.
“There’s no question he tweeted about it in the very beginning,” he said. “The majority of the people in this country didn’t know what January 6 was all about when he did it. He created the narrative up to the point. Planned the rally – and obviously he said, you need to go to the Hill and let people know you don’t like what’s going on.
“So, people left the rally that he had invited them to,” Thompson added. “And they came to the Hill. And the rest we saw in our own eyes.”
Cheney’s remarks came during Tuesday night’s at a crucial meeting of the January 6 committee where they approved a criminal contempt report of Bannon, setting up for a vote from the full House of Representatives on Thursday. Cheney, the vice chair of the committee and a frequent critic of Trump, is one of two Republicans on the nine-member panel.
Cheney and Thompson said during Tuesday’s meeting that the panel believes Bannon has significant knowledge of the planning around the attack and reiterated that they expect the Department of Justice to prosecute once the House formally votes on a criminal referral.
“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,” Cheney said.
“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 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,” she added.
Select Committee member Rep. Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, would not comment when asked Tuesday if Cheney was insinuating that the committee believes Trump and Bannon may have conspired to plan and execute the January 6 riot but acknowledged Bannon’s testimony may be essential to understanding the former President’s role.
“(Bannon) was reportedly in communication with the President in proximity the sixth, and multiple communications with the White House leading up to that day. The biggest … unknowns about January 6 go to the President’s role before during and after, and, and we’re determined to find out,” he told reporters.
Testifying before the House Rules Committee on Wednesday, Cheney also elaborated on the panel’s interest in learning more about how the planning for January 6 and how Trump’s language contributed to the violence.
“It’s critically important for us to recognize and understand how the language that the president, President Trump continues to use to this day, sparked what we saw happen on the sixth. There’s a much larger story that we need to understand about exactly what the plans were for that day they went so far beyond the President’s legitimate right to challenge the results of the election through our court system,” she said.
Bannon and his lawyer have argued that he is unable to cooperate with the committee until matters of executive privilege are resolved by the courts, but the committee has made clear the panel believes his “willful refusal to comply with the Subpoena constitutes a violation of federal law.”
The contempt report, which was released Monday night, outlines the efforts the committee made to get a witness to comply with the subpoena, and the failure by the witness to do so.
Any individual who is found liable for contempt of Congress would be guilty of a crime that may result in a fine and between one and 12 months’ imprisonment. But this process is rarely invoked and rarely leads to jail time – though the House’s pursuit of criminal charges may be more about making an example out of Bannon and sending a message to other potential witnesses.
This story and headline have been updated with additional developments Wednesday.
CNN’s Manu Raju contributed to this report.