Democrats flip-flop on contempt, seeking it for Bannon after opposing it for Holder a decade ago

Bennie Thompson, Adam Schiff and other lawmakers demanding Bannon contempt citation walked out on 2012 House contempt vote on Obama AG.

Updated: October 14, 2021 - 11:45pm

What a difference a decade makes.

The very Democrats now pushing to find former Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 investigation previously opposed such a penalty when Obama-Biden administration Attorney General Eric Holder defied a similar subpoena in the Fast and Furious gun-running probe.

In fact, current Jan.6 commission chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was among a group of about 100 members — mostly Democrats and Black Caucus members — who walked out and refused to participate in the historic vote in June 2012 against Holder.

"We cannot and will not participate in a vote to hold the Attorney General in contempt," the caucus members wrote at the time. "We adamantly oppose this partisan attack and refuse to participate in any vote that would tarnish the image of Congress or of an Attorney General who has done nothing but work tirelessly to protect the rights of the American people."

The House ultimately voted 255 to 67 to find Holder in both criminal and civil contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas from the House Government Oversight and Reform Committee, the first time in American history that the nation's chief law enforcement officer faced such a penalty. Nearly all Republicans and just 17 Democrats voted in favor.

The Obama-Biden Justice Department refused to prosecute Holder, and Congress went to court to enforce its contempt. Holder argued he wouldn't turn over the documents sought by lawmakers because he wanted to protect President Obama's claim of executive privilege.

A judge ultimately ruled against Holder, ordering him to turn over the documents but sparing him from a finding of contempt that could have sent him to jail or forced him to pay a civil penalty.

The probe ultimately unmasked one of the worst scandals of the Obama presidency, in which federal agents allowed guns to walk across the Mexican border and fall into the hands of drug traffickers, some of whom subsequently killed a U.S. border agent.

But now many of the same Democrats from that era are on the other side of the contempt argument, arguing Bannon should be penalized for defying his subpoena even as other Trump advisers like Mark Meadows and Kash Patel cooperate with the probe.

"The Select Committee will use every tool at its disposal to get the information it seeks, and witnesses who try to stonewall the Select Committee will not succeed," Thompson argued Thursday. "All witnesses are required to provide the information they possess so the Committee can get to the facts."

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), the current Intelligence Committee chairman, was another lawmaker who walked out and refused to support the Holder contempt vote. Now he's among those arguing to use contempt powers against Trump witnesses.

"We may have additional tools now that we didn't before, including a Justice Department that may be willing to pursue criminal contempt when people deliberately flout compulsory process," Schiff said earlier this week.

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