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Steve Bannon turns himself in to face criminal contempt charges

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon turned himself in to the FBI this morning and later today will appear in federal court. A federal grand jury indicted Bannon last week after he did not comply with a subpoena to appear before the House Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Joining us now is professor and constitutional law expert Peter Shane from The Ohio State University.

Professor, from a legal perspective, the charges against Steve Bannon are considered misdemeanors. But what is really at stake here?

PETER SHANE: Well, what is at stake for Mr. Bannon personally is the possibility of a fine and a jail sentence on each of two counts. One of the charges has to do with his declining to show up for a deposition, and another has to do with his refusal to produce documents. The - I would guess that the - because the fine is - has a minimum of a hundred dollars and a maximum of a thousand dollars and the jail sentence is a minimum of a month and tops out at a year, that it is not so much the punishment that may be a deterrent here, although it might be. But it's arguably going to send a message to others with regard to the viability of kind of an executive privilege defense for someone other than the president and whether they should cooperate with the committee.

MARTINEZ: Now, speaking of executive privilege, former President Donald Trump continues to argue that he and his former aides are entitled to that - to executive privilege - to shield documents that may show some involvement in the attack on the Capitol back in January. Do they have grounds to claim that?

SHANE: There is a provision of the Presidential Records Act that allows a former president to assert executive privilege. However, if that happens, the national archivist, who is holding the documents that the committee is seeking, has to consult the incumbent president, who, of course, is President Biden. And if the incumbent doesn't agree, then a court - unless a court intervenes, the documents get turned over to the committee.

Mr. Bannon, of course, is not the former president. He was not a government official on January 6, and therefore he's in a - he would be in the weakest possible position to assert executive privilege.

MARTINEZ: Now, will these charges against Bannon start possibly a long legal battle between the former president's close aides and the government that wants to enforce the subpoenas from Congress, considering that you mention Bannon's in the weakest position? But maybe higher up the chain, the position gets stronger.

SHANE: That - the House of Representatives and its committees traditionally have had two ways of trying to enforce its subpoenas. One is through the criminal process, in which it relies on the Department of Justice. The other is by bringing civil suits. In this case, it's probably a more expeditious - a faster method to go through the criminal process than through civil litigation.

MARTINEZ: That's Professor Peter Shane from The Ohio State University. Professor, thank you very much.

SHANE: Oh, you're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.