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Bannon says he will testify at public hearing as contempt trial looms

In a letter, former president Donald Trump told his former chief strategist he will waive his claim of executive privilege, which government lawyers have said never applied

Robert J. Costello, Stephen K. Bannon and David Schoen in Washington, D.C., on June 15. (Win McNamee/Getty)

Former president Donald Trump sent a letter on Saturday to Stephen K. Bannon saying he will waive his claim of executive privilege if his former chief strategist can agree on terms to testify before the House select committee investigating the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.

The letter was quickly communicated to the House panel by Bannon’s lawyer, Robert J. Costello, who said Bannon “is willing to, indeed prefers, to testify at your public hearing.”

The claim of executive privilege is disputed by government lawyers. But the effort suggests Bannon is seeking to bolster his defense against contempt of Congress charges filed after he refused to comply with a subpoena from the House committee last fall. A trial on those charges is scheduled to begin July 18, though Bannon has sought to delay the proceedings.

On July 10, members of the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack discussed the impact of testimony on future public hearings. (Video: The Washington Post)

Trump’s letter reflects his frustration with the drumbeat of revelations emerging from the hearings — and his eagerness for allies to have an audience before the House panel to present his side of the case.

His letter to Bannon asserts that he invoked executive privilege when his former aide was first subpoenaed last fall, but that he has “watched how unfairly you and others have been treated, having to spend vast amounts of money on legal fees, and all the trauma you must be going through for the love of your Country, and out of respect for the Office of the President.”

The committee has argued that claims of executive privilege are not valid for Bannon, who was a private citizen at the time of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot. The committee has also said that Bannon, an outspoken advocate of false claims that the 2020 election was stolen, was required to respond to the subpoena in some way — citing claims of privilege on a question-by-question basis instead of by refusing to respond.

“Even if your client had been a senior aide to the President during the time period covered by the contemplated testimony, which he was most assuredly not, he is not permitted by law to the type of immunity you suggest that Mr. Trump has requested he assert,” Chairman Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) wrote to Bannon’s attorney in October.

Bannon’s offer is not guaranteed to produce testimony before the committee, which may find the conditions his attorney hinted at, such as a public hearing, unacceptable. The hearings have yet to feature any live witnesses aligned with Trump, who has repeatedly demanded that the proceedings air his claims about voter fraud, which have been widely disproved. Bannon could also still assert his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, as other witnesses have done in closed-door testimony.

Committee member Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) confirmed in an interview on CNN on Sunday that the committee had received the letter from Bannon’s lawyer but said it was unlikely that any deposition from Bannon would be public.

“Ordinarily, we do depositions, you know. This goes on for hour after hour after hour,” Lofgren said about Bannon’s offer to appear live before the committee. “We want to get all our questions answered, and you can’t do that in a live format.”

Trump adviser Peter Navarro published a book in which he unveiled the plan to keep Trump in office. (Video: Monica Rodman, Sarah Hashemi/The Washington Post)

The government has declined to bring contempt charges against other former Trump aides who have also cited claims of executive privilege, including former chief of staff Mark Meadows and former adviser Dan Scavino.

Since the bombshell testimony from Cassidy Hutchinson, a former top aide to Meadows, several Republicans have come forward to cooperate with the House select committee and more are expected to come forward, according to people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the matter’s sensitivity.

The live and videotaped testimony featured in the committee’s case against Trump has so far painted a detailed picture of the former president’s efforts to hold on to power at all costs. These public hearings could continue into August and beyond as investigators accumulate more evidence and new witness testimony, the people familiar with the investigation added.

On Friday, former White House counsel Pat Cipollone appeared for an eight-hour, closed-door, transcribed interview with investigators to discuss his role in trying to prevent Trump’s attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election.

Cipollone may have provided the committee with answers to crucial questions that could corroborate previous testimony or provide new evidence about what he may have witnessed in the White House in the lead-up to Jan. 6 and on the day of the attack.

Committee spokesman Tim Mulvey said in a statement Sunday that Cipollone provided “critical testimony on nearly every major topic in its investigation, reinforcing key points regarding Donald Trump’s misconduct and providing highly relevant new information that will play a central role in its upcoming hearings.”

“This includes information demonstrating Donald Trump’s supreme dereliction of duty,” Mulvey added. “The testimony also corroborated key elements of Cassidy Hutchinson’s testimony. Allegations of some preinterview agreement to limit Cipollone’s testimony are completely false.”

Hutchinson’s public testimony last month identified Cipollone as a key witness to potential criminal activity in the Trump White House.

Hutchinson testified that, on the morning of Jan. 6, Cipollone came forward with an urgent request, saying “something to the effect of: ‘Please make sure we don’t go up to the Capitol, Cassidy. Keep in touch with me. We’re going to get charged with every crime imaginable if we make that movement happen.’”

She also testified that when the violence broke out at the Capitol, Cipollone demanded that he and Meadows speak with Trump to intervene and try to stop the violence. When Meadows told Cipollone that Trump did not want to take any action, Cipollone replied that “something needs to be done, or people are going to die, the blood’s going to be on your f-ing hands,” according to Hutchinson’s retelling of the interaction.

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right militia group the Oath Keepers, made an offer to the House committee on Friday to appear before the committee, his attorney Lee Bright confirmed.

The committee has not responded to the offer. Rhodes requested that his testimony be conducted under certain conditions: an open forum, taped from a venue other than the jail where he is currently in custody, and unedited. Bright said his client is willing to talk about Oath Keeper activities during the last election and on Jan. 6, 2021.

Isaac Arnsdorf and Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

Congressional hearings: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held a series of high-profile hearings to share its findings with the U.S. public. What was likely to be the panel’s final public hearing has been postponed because of Hurricane Ian. Here’s a guide to the biggest hearing moments so far.

Will there be charges? The committee could make criminal referrals of former president Donald Trump over his role in the attack, Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said in an interview.

What we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6: New details emerged when Hutchinson testified before the committee and shared what she saw and heard on Jan. 6.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6.

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