“Willard,” the 1971 movie, featured a pack of rats that alternatively helped and then turned on the title character, ultimately devouring him alive in a gory finale. How appropriate then, that Donald Trump’s henchmen, a vicious pack of rats including Rudy Giuliani, Bernie Kerik, Steve Bannon, John Eastman, Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Alex Jones, Boris Epshteyn, and others chose the Willard Hotel as their headquarters for the January 6th Insurrection.
Many of them gathered in a suites of rooms they dubbed their “war rooms,” where they attempted to plot and connive a way for Donald Trump to thwart the will of the American people and stay in office, despite a resounding defeat by Joe Biden in the 2020 Presidential Election.
Steve Bannon, a big, fat, hairy rat, has been nothing but a big talker and schemer (and scammer), first as a Trump campaign manager allegedly plotting through Cambridge Analytica to misuse social media user data for Trump’s benefit, then as a self-proclaimed “Leninist” who wanted to “deconstruct” the state, and then as a would-be seditionist seeking to overturn an election. Post-Insurrection, he has used his podcast, Bannon’s War Room, as a platform for various Trump acolytes to perpetuate the Big Lie and plot the demise of our government.
Bannon bragged on January 5th that, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this. All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It’s gonna be moving. It’s gonna be quick.” But when he was given a chance by the House Select Committee on January 6th to expound his ideas and what he did in the run-up to the Insurrection, he became uncharacteristically close-mouthed.
In fact, he declined to respond to a subpoena from the Select Committee, except to have his attorney make up a bogus excuse that he had to “honor” Trump’s bullshit claim that “Executive Privilege” — which protects discussions between the President and his close advisors in some circumstances — somehow covers discussions between Trump and somebody who was not a member of the Trump Administration, as well as discussions Trump did not even partake in.
Bill Palmer has already reported that Bannon was in a no-win situation. Show up and testify, and he may exacerbate the legal jeopardy he is already in from other investigations. Fail to show up, and he may suffer penalties for that. Of course, he could show up and plead the Fifth Amendment, refusing to testify on the grounds that he would incriminate himself, thus technically avoiding legal liability, but also painting an explicit target on his back and, likely, Trump’s, for prosecutors to shoot at.
While the fact that somebody takes the Fifth cannot be used to draw an inference of guilt against a defendant in a criminal court case, the same is not true for a Congressional hearing/report, the actual investigation into criminal misconduct, or in the important Court of Public Opinion, where we are free to draw whatever inferences we like.
Liz Cheney did as much in stating that “Mr. Bannon’s and Mr. Trump’s privilege arguments do however appear to reveal one thing. They suggest that President Trump was personally involved in the planning and execution of January 6th.” Cheney is on the right track. Bannon’s current use of Trump’s excuse of Executive Privilege, as bogus as it is, seems to be an express acknowledgement that Trump participated in the nefarious discussions, whether in person by phone.
And if Bannon subsequently is forced to testify and takes the Fifth (which cannot be legally invoked simply to avoid embarrassment or ratting out your friends) he’d be tacitly acknowledging that something he was being asked about could lead to criminal liability for him. Coupled with the Trump/Bannon claim of Executive Privilege, this would seem to indicate that Trump participated in discussions, planning, and plotting for which there is potential criminal liability.
Who knows which of today’s Willard rats – Bannon, Jones, Flynn, Giuliani, Kerik, Eastman, or Epshteyn — will turn on Trump and devour him, like the rats in Willard the movie. The fact that Bannon served as an extensive source for the Mueller investigation should warn Trump not to assume undying loyalty from him. But stay tuned; in any event, this Willard story is certainly worth watching.