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Rep. Zoe Lofgren on Steve Bannon indictment

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former White House strategist and Trump ally Steve Bannon is expected to surrender to authorities on Monday to face two charges of contempt of Congress. The Justice Department announced the indictment by a grand jury yesterday. The charges stem from Bannon's failure to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Each charge could carry a maximum one-year jail sentence. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, Democrat from California, is a member of the House Select Committee, and we called her to ask her to tell us more about it. Representative Lofgren, thank you so much for joining us.

ZOE LOFGREN: Sure. Happy to do it.

MARTIN: I want to just start with a basic question in all this, which is Steve Bannon was not a member of the Trump administration on January 6, so what information does the committee believe Bannon could provide that would be valuable to your investigation?

LOFGREN: Well, from other sources, it appears that he may have had a very integral role in organizing the riot and perhaps coordinating with some of the rioters. He said the day before that we would be surprised by what was happening. So you know, we've got a lot of questions for him that we need answers to. He doesn't have any right to refuse to answer these questions, as the indictment suggests.

MARTIN: When your committee sought testimony from Bannon in October, you cited his role in what has been called the war room at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. That was a space reportedly set up for lawyers and strategists coordinating a way to disrupt certification of the election and deny Biden the presidency. How much of your investigation centers on that war room?

LOFGREN: Well, we want to know everything there is to know about that. Obviously, that is not the only thing we're looking at, but it is an important part of the story, apparently. And so we need to talk to the individuals who were involved in it, get the documents that are available and fully explore. That's our intention.

MARTIN: You told my colleague Claudia Grisales this week that you're reaching the end of the first stage of this investigation. For people who haven't followed it closely, how would you characterize that first stage, and where do you see this going?

LOFGREN: Defining the elements that we're going to look at, assembling really a crackerjack staff to do that, laying out the evidence that we are seeking and start in pursuing that evidence, interviewing witnesses. We've interviewed over 150 people so far, including members of the Trump administration who have voluntarily come forward to tell what they know. So there's lots left to do, but we are well underway.

MARTIN: It's my understanding that it's quite rare for the Department of Justice to bring contempt of Congress charges against anyone. I believe the last time before Bannon's indictment on Friday was almost 40 years ago. Do you expect to see more indictments stemming from your investigation?

LOFGREN: Well, I can't answer that at this point. Mr. Bannon is the only witness that we have referred for prosecution so far. However, you can't do what he's doing. If you get a subpoena to go to court or to Congress, it's not like if you feel like it, come in. You're required to go in. And if you feel that you have a privilege that allows you not to answer a question, you're required to assert that privilege question by question. And then either the court or the Congress will make a ruling on the assertion. Unfortunately, Mark Meadows, the former chief of staff to the former president, decided not to show up yesterday, and that's not proper. And we're going to sort through these. Hopefully, other witnesses will see what is happening to Mr. Bannon and come to their senses and do the right thing - come in and tell the truth.

MARTIN: As I'm sure you know because you're serving with people who are promulgating this point of view, you know, a big chunk of this country, including a big chunk of elected officials and candidates, still believe the former President Trump's falsehood that the 2020 election was stolen. And at a time of such deep polarization on such a simple, like, factual question, I'm guessing that you would have considered that this indictment could have the effect of just hardening the divide that exists there anyway, and I'm just wondering if that factored into the committee's work at all.

LOFGREN: No, it didn't. We have a job to do. Our job is to get all the facts about what happened on the day and leading up to the day and to consider what steps to take, including legislation as well as other matters to prevent that from happening again. The fact that, you know, some people have been lied to and believe the lie can't impact our requirement to do our job, which is to get all the facts and to respond accordingly.

MARTIN: Before I let you go, beyond this investigation or even as a part of this investigation, do you and your colleagues have a sense of or even a strategy about how to deal with somehow rebuilding trust in this country's democratic systems?

LOFGREN: Well, it is the essential challenge of our time. We have a significant portion of one political party apparently telling pollsters that using violence to take power is acceptable. That's not the way our Constitution provides. So it's important that we tell the truth, but it's important that everyone who's a part of our wonderful country rededicate themselves to our Constitution and to the rule of law and to the premise that we are a constitutional republic. We are ultimately led by the voters of this country, not by a political party that lies or uses violence to seize power.

MARTIN: I understand that that's the goal. But do you have a sense of how you persuade citizens who, for whatever reason, have adopted that point of view to consider another?

LOFGREN: Well, I - you know, I don't know that - we're not equipped to remove people from a cult. That's not a job that a congressional committee can do. On the other hand, there are many people who have been lied to that are not so far down the rabbit hole that they're in a cult. And I think that presenting the information that we find in a way that is reliable and credible is the best that we can do.

MARTIN: That is Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren. She is a Democrat from California. She's a member of the House Select Committee on the January 6 attack. Representative Lofgren, thank you so much for joining us today.

LOFGREN: Thank you. Take care. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.