Steve Bannon, previously a chief strategist for former President Donald Trump, is slated to stand trial this month on two contempt of Congress charges following his refusal to cooperate with subpoenas for documents and testimony from the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot of 2021.
Bannon had sought to delay that trial due to the potential bias of jurors by the ongoing committee hearings, but the federal judge overseeing his case rejected that request on Monday, the Conservative Brief reported.
The judge also ruled against a variety of proposed avenues of defense Bannon’s attorneys were prepared to use during the trial, effectively narrowing the scope of the trial to just the knowledge and intent Bannon had when he initially refused to cooperate with the committee’s subpoenas.
Bannon’s defense plans shot down by judge
The Washington Examiner reported that Bannon’s attorneys argued Monday that the widespread media coverage of the House committee’s public hearings on the Jan. 6 incident could improperly bias potential jurors ahead of the trial that was scheduled to begin on July 18.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols was unpersuaded, though, and said, “While I am certainly cognizant of Mr. Bannon’s concerns regarding publicity, in my view the correct mechanism at this time for addressing that concern is through the [jury selection] process.”
Judge Nichols also rejected several arguments that Bannon’s attorneys were set to pursue, such as Bannon’s reliance on prior opinions from the White House Office of Legal Counsel regarding executive privilege.
The judge also shot down a claim of “entrapment by estoppel,” or the reliance on advice from a government official, due to Bannon’s status as a private citizen, as well as his invocation of “public authority” in that Trump was no longer the president when he suggested Bannon not comply with the committee’s demands.
One of Bannon’s attorneys, David Schoen, asked during the hearing, “What is the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?” Judge Nichols simply replied, “Agreed.”
Validity of Trump letter waiving executive privilege disputed
Also at issue during the hearing was Bannon’s recent about-face in suddenly announcing that he would now testify publicly before the Jan. 6 committee after former President Trump sent him a letter that waived any prior claim of executive privilege.
According to The Washington Post, federal prosecutors had argued that Bannon’s sudden reversal on testifying before the committee was a “last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability” on the contempt charges, and dismissed the letter of Trump as meaningless given that claims of his executive authority regarding the Jan. 6 incident have been challenged and disputed.
It now remains to be seen if Bannon will actually testify before the committee and, if so, whether the committee will question Bannon in a public hearing, as he has requested for the sake of transparency, or insist that the matter be handled behind closed doors.
As for the contempt of Congress charges, it now looks like that trial will proceed as scheduled on July 18 and, if convicted, Bannon could face anywhere from two months to two years in jail plus a $2,000 fine.