The Justice Department on Friday pushed back against President Biden’s call to prosecute individuals who defy a subpoena from the congressional committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
“The Department of Justice will make its own independent decisions in all prosecutions based solely on the facts and the law. Period. Full stop,” Justice Department spokesman Anthony Coley said in an email to the Washington Times.
In his strongest comments yet on what should happen to those who refuse to comply with the committee, Mr. Biden on Friday said they should face legal consequences.
“I hope that the committee goes after them and holds them accountable,” Mr. Biden told reporters at the White House.
When asked if he thought the Justice Department should prosecute anyone who bucks a committee subpoena, Mr. Biden said, “I do.”
Mr. Biden’s statements mark the first time the White House has weighed in on those who have refused to comply with the committee’s subpoenas.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Thursday declined to say whether Mr. Biden believes anyone who refused to comply with a committee subpoena should be prosecuted.
“It’s the purview of the Department of Justice to determine if there would be a criminal referral … and they handle exclusively those decisions, so I’d point to them,” Ms. Psaki said.
On Thursday, the committee scheduled a vote to recommend criminal contempt charges against former President Donald Trump’s adviser Steve Bannon, who has defied a subpoena. The vote will take place on Tuesday.
“The Select Committee will not tolerate defiance of our subpoenas,” Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, said in a statement.
Mr. Thompson accused Mr. Bannon of “hiding behind the former president’s insufficient, blanket and vague statements regarding privileges he has purported to invoke.”
If approved by the Democrat-led committee, the recommendation of criminal charges would go to the full House. If the House approves charges, the Justice Department will decide whether to prosecute Mr. Bannon.
The committee so far has issued 19 subpoenas, largely to ex-Trump aides. While Mr. Bannon has outright defied the committee, others appear to be negotiating appearances.
So far, three people, including two longtime White House staffers, Megan Powers and Hannah Salem, have agreed to comply with the subpoenas. Lyndon Brentnall, whose firm was hired to provide security on the Ellipse that day, also agreed to appear.