Steve Bannon’s contempt of Congress trial to begin in earnest as judge rejects delays
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols quickly denied that motion, and the trial was to begin in earnest Tuesday afternoon. However Nichols also indicated he might be open to a one-day delay.
Bannon is facing the federal charges after refusing for months to cooperate with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.
The bulk of Tuesday’s morning session revolved around debates over how much of Bannon’s communications with the Jan. 6 committee can be admitted as evidence. Nichols went paragraph by paragraph through one particular letter, with Bannon attorney Evan Corcoran warning about the legal dangers of “redactions being made on the fly” before making his delay request.
An unofficial advisor to Trump at the time of the Capitol attack, Bannon is charged with defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee that sought his records and testimony. He was indicted in November on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, one month after the Justice Department received a congressional referral. Upon conviction, each count carries a minimum of 30 days and up to a year in jail.
Nichols had previously ruled that major elements of Bannon’s planned defense were irrelevant and could not be introduced in court. He ruled last week that Bannon could not claim he believed he was covered by executive privilege or that he was acting on the advice of his lawyers.
Bennie Thompson, chair of the Jan. 6 committee, tests positive for the coronavirus and has mild symptoms, but says Thursday’s hearing will go on.
Bannon attorney David Schoen hinted at his planned defense when he told the judge that Bannon believed he was in the midst of an ongoing negotiation with the Jan. 6 committee and that he “believed the dates were malleable” while that negotiation continued.
“Mr. Bannon believed, right or wrong, that the date had been extended,” Schoen said.
Attorneys for the government intend to argue there was no confusion on Bannon’s part and that his failure to appear was a simple matter of defiance and disrespect for the congressional investigation.
“On it’s face the subpoena demands compliance,” said Assistant U.S. Atty. Amanda R. Vaughn, who said the government would prove “the defendant’s attempts to willfully defy the subpoena.”
Bannon, 68, had been one of the most prominent of the Trump-allied holdouts refusing to testify before the committee. He had argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege, which allows presidents to withhold confidential information from the courts and the legislative branch.
Trump has repeatedly asserted executive privilege — even though he’s a former, not current president — to try to block witness testimony and the release of White House documents. The Supreme Court in January ruled against Trump’s efforts to stop the National Archives from cooperating with the committee after a lower court judge — Tanya S. Chutkan — noted, in part, “Presidents are not kings.”
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