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WASHINGTON - Former White House adviser Stephen Bannon was charged Friday with two counts of contempt of Congress after refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
He was indicted by a grand jury in Washington - a rare move by the Justice Department to escalate the consequences of a dispute involving Congress. Court records indicate only three such cases have been filed in D.C. since 1990.
The charges against Bannon each carry a maximum sentence of one year in jail and may serve as a warning to others seeking to avoid or defy the Jan. 6 committee.
Attorney General Merrick Garland in a news release said the charges reflect the Justice Department's commitment to "show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law."
Neither a lawyer for Bannon nor a spokesperson immediately responded to requests for comment. He is expected to turn himself in next week ahead of his first court appearance in the case.
Bannon, 67, was subpoenaed Sept. 23, one of a number of former advisers to President Donald Trump who have balked at answering the select committee's questions about the events before and during the riot that sought to prevent Congress from formally certifying the election of Joe Biden.
Bannon worked in the White House in 2017, but the committee is focused on his conversations and activities as an outside adviser and activist in the run-up to Jan. 6 when hundreds of Trump supporters protesting the election's outcome turned violent, attacked police and stormed into the Capitol building, forcing lawmakers to flee for their safety.
In particular, the House select committee wants to question Bannon about conversations Jan. 5 at the Willard Hotel, when pro-Trump activists sought to persuade Republican lawmakers to block certification of the election. The committee's subpoena also noted that Bannon was quoted predicting "hell is going to break loose" on Jan. 6.
David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official now in private practice, said it is unclear whether even criminal charges will persuade Bannon to cooperate.
"But it was essential for the Justice Department to hold Mr. Bannon accountable for his brazen flouting of the subpoena, and in doing so to send a message to others who might defy the select committee's investigative authorities," he said. Laufman represents two of the Capitol Police officers who responded to the riot.
The panel has issued subpoenas to at least 20 Trump aides, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows did not appear Friday for a scheduled deposition, officials said.
In a joint statement, the House panel's chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and vice chair, Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said Meadows's actions "defy the law" and will force the committee to consider "contempt or other proceedings to enforce the subpoena."
They said the committee has already talked with more than 150 people who are cooperating and providing information to the investigation.
"Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won't prevail in stopping the Select Committee's effort getting answers for the American people about January 6th, making legislative recommendations to help protect our democracy, and helping ensure nothing like that day ever happens again" the two lawmakers said.
Former Justice Department official Jeffrey Clark appeared for a closed-door interview with the panel last week, but he refused to answer questions about whether Trump attempted to use the department to overturn the election, according to people familiar with the matter.
Others who were said to have been at the Willard Hotel and engaged in discussions ahead of Jan. 6 also have been subpoenaed as lawmakers examine what role, if any, the Trump team's "command center" there played in the violence that followed.
Other individuals subpoenaed include Trump's 2020 campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller, national executive assistant Angela McCallum and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn.
This week, the panel issued subpoenas to 10 other Trump administration officials, including John McEntee, the former White House personnel director; Ben Williamson, a former deputy assistant to the president; Nicholas Luna, the former president's personal assistant; and Molly Michael, the Oval Office operations coordinator.
The charges against Bannon are misdemeanors, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of up to $1,000.
The case marks Bannon's latest brush with the criminal justice system since becoming a close adviser to Trump.
In 2020, he was charged in a federal case alongside three others in what prosecutors described as a massive fundraising scam targeting the donors of a private campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Bannon, who had pleaded not guilty, was accused of pocketing more than $1 million from his involvement with "We Build the Wall" while representing to the organization's backers that all of the money was being used for construction. He was pardoned before the case could go to trial - one of Trump's last acts as president.
Bannon also was a key witness in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election and ultimately testified as a prosecution witness against Trump confidant Roger Stone, who was convicted by a jury and also pardoned.
Court records indicate that the three similar contempt cases have been filed in D.C. federal court since 1990 all resulted in guilty pleas, although the convictions did not stand.
President Ronald Reagan's former assistant secretary of state Elliott Abrams and former senior CIA official Alan Fiers Jr. each served less than a year of probation and community service for taking part in a coverup of the Iran-contra scandal, court records show. Fiers and Abrams were pardoned by President George H.W. Bush in 1992.
Scott Bloch, head of the federal agency that protects government whistleblowers during the George W. Bush administration, pleaded guilty in 2010 and was sentenced but was later allowed to withdraw his plea and admit instead to destruction of property. He also served probation.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, R-N.Y., one of Trump's most fervent defenders on Capitol Hill, noted on Twitter that in two more recent instances of contempt votes by Republican majorities - against then-Attorney General Eric Holder in 2012 and former IRS official Lois Lerner in 2014 - the Justice Department decided not to file charges.
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A top U.S. cybersecurity official offered a dire warning to members of Congress on Wednesday, saying the "American way of life" faces serious risks amid the drumbeat of ransomware attacks and physical threats to the nation's critical infrastructure.
Jen Easterly, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, known as CISA, told the House Homeland Security Committee Wednesday that "ransomware has become a scourge on nearly every facet of our lives, and it's a prime example of the vulnerabilities that are emerging as our digital and our physical infrastructure increasingly converge."
Her appearance, aside National Cyber Director Chris Inglis, comes as the private sector and governments have grappled with pervasive cyberattacks during the last 12 months. Some attacks, including the Colonial Pipeline Co. breach in May, have led to gas shortages, disrupted supply chains and exposed federal systems to significant compromise.
Easterly's testimony came after CISA issued a binding operational directive that would create a catalog of known exploited cybersecurity vulnerabilities and would require federal agencies to fix these flaws within specific time frames. It would apply to all software and hardware on federal information systems, including those managed by an agency or hosted by third parties.
While the directive would only apply to federal agencies, Easterly said in a statement she wants every organization to adopt the directive "and prioritize mitigation of vulnerabilities listed in CISA's public catalog."
Rep. John Katko, a Republican from New York, said, "The volume of alerts, advisories, and directives goes to show the pervasiveness of vulnerabilities affecting owners and operators of critical infrastructure, and federal networks."
Inglis said that privately owned critical infrastructure, which accounts for 85% of the total, is "increasingly core to the government's imperative to protect and provide for national security."
"Shared defense is not a choice but an imperative," Inglis said.
Inglis said he is working with the White House on a forthcoming executive order that would provide additional clarity on the roles and responsibilities for his newly created post, which is expected in the coming weeks to months. The Office of National Cyber Director was created by Congress earlier this year, and the role was designated as the top official overseeing cyber strategy and budgets within the government.
But lawmakers have raised concerns that it overlaps with authorities of CISA's Easterly and the White House's Anne Neuberger, the deputy national security advisor for cyber and emerging technology. The goal of the executive order is to provide clearer parameters around the new role, Inglis said.
Both Katko, the top Republican on the panel, and Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi and the panel's chairman, have placed a rare bipartisan emphasis on the importance of countering cybersecurity threats and offering praise for CISA's efforts. President Joe Biden has called cybersecurity a "core national security challenge," and has since rearranged parts of the U.S. government to reflect new priorities.
Thompson, who also chairs the House select committee on the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, also raised concerns of misinformation as key elections played out in Virginia and New Jersey. "Just yesterday, voters went to the polls to cast their ballots even as efforts to push the Big Lie and erode public confidence in democratic institutions persist," Thompson said.
Inglis told members of Congress that there has been a "discernible decrease" in cyberattacks by Russia-based groups since President Joe Biden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in June.
"It's too soon to tell whether that's because of material efforts taken by the Russians or the Russian leadership," he said. "It may well be that the transgressors in this space have simply kind of lain low understanding that this is -- for the moment --a very hot time for them."
"We need to make sure that the continues to be the case," Inglis said.