Biden admits it was wrong for him to say Steve Bannon should be charged and he would ‘never pick up the phone’ to call the Attorney General to tell him to prosecute someone
- ‘I should have chosen my words more wisely,’ Biden said at a CNN town hall
- He responded ‘Yes, I do’ last week when reporters asked if DOJ should prosecute
- The House voted to hold Bannon in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena
- DOJ could prosecute him for criminal contempt with potential jail time
- He called his prior remark ‘inappropriate’ but said he spoke ‘honestly’
President Joe Biden on Thursday said he should have chosen his words ‘more wisely’ when he said the Justice Department should prosecute former Trump advisor Steve Bannon for contempt.
Biden cleaned up the comment, which he made to reporters Friday night, after his words clashed with his repeated assurances he won’t interfere with an independent Justice Department.
His walk-back, in a town hall on CNN, came hours after the House of Representatives voted to hold Bannon in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena from the select Jan. 6th committee probing the Capitol riot.
Interviewer Anderson Cooper asked Biden if it was appropriate for him to weigh in on the prosecution – the kind of decision normally protected from any political interference.
‘No, the way I said it was not appropriate,’ Biden conceded off the bat.
‘I said they [the reporters] asked me would I – do I think that they should be prosecuted for … not showing up at the committee. And I said yes,’ Biden said.
President Joe Biden called his prior remark backing prosecution of Steve Bannon for contempt ‘inappropriate’ but said he spoke ‘honestly’
Then he repeated his refrain about an independent Justice Department – after liberals recoiled during the Trump administration over the president’s repeated demands that the agency prosecute his rivals.
Biden said he ran on reestablishing the reputation and integrity of the Justice Department.
‘It has become the most – it was corrupted under the last administration. I should have chose my words were wisely. I did not have not and will not pick up the phone and call the attorney general and tell him what he should or should not do in terms of who he should prosecute,’ he said.
The House voted to hold Steve Bannon in contempt for defying a subpoena
During testimony in the House Thursday, AG Merrick Garland would not say directly whether Bannon would be prosecuted
That line drew applause from members of the audience in Baltimore for the CNN town hall.
‘But, I answered the question honestly, and I think that anyone who does not respond to that kind of question from a legitimate Committee in the House of Representatives, the United States Senate, should be held accountable.’
‘So that’s as much as I can say without coming look like I’m telling the –I have yet to talk to the Attorney General about anything,’ Biden said.
During testimony in the House Thursday, AG Merrick Garland would not say directly whether Bannon would be prosecuted.
Nine Republicans including Cheney voted to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress
‘If the House of Representatives votes for referral of the contempt charge, the Department of Justice will do what it always does in such circumstances – apply the facts of the law and make a decision consistent with the principles of prosecution,’ he said.
His agency put out a statement asserting its independence minutes after Biden’s Friday night comment on Bannon.
The House voted 229-202 to hold Bannon in contempt, with nine Republicans crossing the aisle.
Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), who was among them, ripped into Bannon at a Jan. 6th committee hearing, saying ‘it appears that Mr. Bannon had substantial advance knowledge of the plans for January 6th and likely had an important role in formulating those plans.’
‘The day before this all occurred — on January 5th — Mr. Bannon publicly professed knowledge that ‘(a)ll hell is going to break loose tomorrow,’ she said.
Bannon through his lawyer has said he will not respond to the subpoena while Trump is asserting executive privilege.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was more defiant Monday when asked about Biden’s earlier comments, saying there was ‘hardly a comparison’ between Biden and Trump.
‘The president continues to believe that Jan. 6 was one of the darkest days in our democracy,’ Psaki said. ‘He also continues to believe that the Department of Justice has the purview and the independence to make decisions about prosecutions.’
She bristled when a reporter pressed her on it. ‘Well, since you give me the opportunity, the former president used his office to incite an insurrection, he put political pressure on senior DOJ officials to propagate lies about the election to the point where they threatened to resign en masse. I think there’s hardly a comparison there,’ she said.