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Bannon threatens vengeance after surrendering on criminal contempt charges

NOEL KING, HOST:

Steve Bannon turned himself in yesterday. President Trump's former adviser is facing federal charges of contempt of Congress. He created a scene, livestreaming his surrender, and then after appearing before a judge, he said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BANNON: Joe Biden ordered Merrick Garland to prosecute me from the White House lawn when he got off Marine One. And we're going to do - we're going to go on the offense. We're tired of playing defense. We're going to go on the offense on this and stand by.

KING: NPR, I should note, has no proof that Bannon's claims there are true. Bannon, you may remember, is in this position because he defied a subpoena from a House committee that's investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. With us now is Renato Mariotti. He's a former federal prosecutor. Thanks for being with us.

RENATO MARIOTTI: Thank you.

KING: What does Congress want from Steve Bannon?

MARIOTTI: Well, they want a lot of information and answers. Mr. Bannon was talking in the days leading up to the insurrection about what would happen, and he spoke in ominous tones and was discussing on his podcast and so forth the reckoning that was to come. And I think Congress really wants answers. It also wants a lot of documents from him as well.

KING: Bannon's is the first criminal contempt of Congress charge filed in almost 40 years, which is remarkable. You've written that this is a very difficult charge to prosecute. How so?

MARIOTTI: Well, first of all, this is not your typical crime. This is not something like robbing a bank or possessing illegal narcotics. This is something where the crime here is refusing to comply with a subpoena. But there can be valid reasons not to comply with a subpoena, and there can be things like privilege that you might assert and so forth - actually, very valid reasons not to answer questions. And so it can be a difficult one for Congress. In fact, I expect Mr. Bannon to try to say that his lawyer gave him advice not to comply and that he was relying in good faith on that advice.

KING: OK. Mark Meadows, Trump's former chief of staff, has also refused to cooperate with this committee. Is his situation much different from Steve Bannon's?

MARIOTTI: I think so. First of all, Mr. Bannon's approach, his response to the subpoena, was about as ham-handed as it got. He actually didn't respond at all until after the subpoena was due. And his response was very perfunctory and very categorical, just sort of saying, a very high level, that he refused. You know, Mr. Meadows has taken a much more sophisticated approach. His attorney's been negotiating with the committee. He has suggested potential compromises, suggests he would search for documents. And in the end, Mr. Meadows is also in a different position because he was a senior White House official, so he has a much more valid claim towards executive privilege than someone like Bannon, who wasn't even working in the executive branch at the time.

KING: All right, I want to ask you about potential outcomes here. Over the weekend, Congressman Adam Schiff said this on "Meet The Press" about Bannon's indictment.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MEET THE PRESS")

ADAM SCHIFF: Now that witnesses see that if they don't cooperate, if they don't fulfill their lawful duty when subpoenaed, that they too may be prosecuted, it will have a very strong focusing effect.

KING: A very strong focusing effect. Do you really think that's going to happen?

MARIOTTI: Not really. I mean, I think...

KING: OK.

MARIOTTI: Yeah. Unfortunately - I think it will have an impact; I'm not saying that it doesn't. But people like Mr. Meadows have sophisticated lawyers, and they know that the record that they've created is much messier and that, as a practical matter, it'll be much more difficult for the Justice Department to indict them.

KING: And so what is the outcome of that? Just nothing happens?

MARIOTTI: I think what's going to happen is that in the case of someone like Mr. Meadows, ultimately this is going to have to work its way through the courts. And we've seen that happen before with Don McGahn, for example, who actually went to court seeking an answer. I think that ultimately took over two years for Congress to get his testimony.

KING: And what's your understanding of what happens next to Steve Bannon, real quick?

MARIOTTI: Sure. He is going to be awaiting trial and fighting this onward.

KING: OK. Former federal prosecutor and political columnist Renato Mariotti, thanks for your time.

MARIOTTI: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.