Jury selection begins in criminal contempt of Congress trial for Steve Bannon

Jury selection begins in criminal contempt of Congress trial for Steve Bannon

July 18, 2022 0 By Ellen Novack

Campaign Action

The atmosphere building towards Bannon’s trial has been tense: He and federal prosecutors at the Justice Department have duked it out for months as Bannon mounted multiple attempts to waylay proceedings by objecting to evidence or arguing his noncompliance was the result of bad legal advice as well as an assertion of executive privilege by Trump through Trump’s lawyer, Justin Clark. Clark has said this did not happen.

Historically, he has tried and failed to attack the probe’s credibility and standing and has maintained that a fair trial would be impossible due to media coverage of the committee’s investigation. 

But Nichols brushed off the executive privilege arguments in the runup to trial because he found no evidence to support claims that Trump had truly asserted it over Bannon. First, Nichols noted, Bannon had left the White House in 2017. The probe’s subpoena specifically requested information from a time period where Bannon was a private citizen and had attended meetings in Trump’s “war room” at Washington’s Willard Hotel on the eve of the insurrection. Next, Trump was no longer president, or considered a public figure, when Trump’s attorneys—at least according to Bannon—instructed him to ignore the subpoena. 

But without proof of executive privilege asserted—the foundation Bannon built most of his defense upon—he is now on the ropes.

Bannon’s legal team must focus instead on the premise that he did not understand there was an “operative” deadline accompanying his subpoena when he failed to comply. To that end, where Bannon has argued in pretrial settings that it was the bad legal advice that led him here, Nichols ruled the right-wing bombast cannot present this claim because it is unsupported in case law. Nichols cited a 1961 mafia case known Licavoli v. United States where the judge determined “he who deliberately and intentionally fails to respond to a subpoena ‘willfully makes default.’”

Steve Bannon Subpoena Sept 23 2021 by Daily Kos on Scribd

Evil motive is not a necessary ingredient of willfulness under this clause of the statute. A deliberate intention not to appear is sufficient,” the 1961 ruling found. 

Nichols’ rulings left Bannon’s attorney, David Schoen, at a loss. He openly asked Nichols in court, according to multiple media reports: “What’s the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?”

“Agreed,” Nichols shot back.

Prosecutors have argued that Bannon has tried to manipulate his case from the time he was indicted and an 11th-hour offer to testify publicly entered by Bannon last week didn’t do much to alter his trial trajectory. Committee members Reps. Jamie Raskin and Zoe Lofgren have said the committee would certainly be willing to hear from Bannon, but he would be treated like all other witnesses have been treated: a video deposition would be recorded first. 

Bannon was held in contempt by the full House of Representatives last October after he rebuffed the committee’s subpoena a month before. 

Investigators on the committee wanted Bannon to cooperate because they argued he has key insights into meetings at the Willard, where, among other things, strategies to deploy Trump’s bogus elector bid were worked over. Trump and Bannon spoke by phone on Dec. 30, 2020, the panel says, and Bannon may have used that call to encourage Trump to obstruct the joint session on Jan. 6. 

On the eve of the insurrection, from his podcast War Room, Bannon said:

“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. It’s going to be moving. It’s gonna be quick. And all I can say is strap in, the War Room, a posse. You have made this happen and tomorrow is game day,” he said. 

Though Bannon has balked that it would be impossible to have a fair jury trial because of press coverage of Jan. 6, other defendants tied to the attack have been impaneled without issue. 

Bannon has denied any culpability around the violence of the attempted coup. 

If convicted, each of his two contempt charges pose a minimum sentence of 30 days or a maximum sentence of up to a year. Criminal contempt referrals are rare by congressional standards, and indictments by the Department of Justice are rarer still. The last person charged with criminal contempt of Congress was Rita Lavella, an official at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who refused to answer questions from Congress after she was removed from her leadership role in a division of the EPA. She was acquitted of the criminal contempt charge but was found guilty of lying to Congress, and she served a six-month sentence. 

According to Politico, Bannon was briefly spotted in the courtroom—sans tie— on Monday during a break in jury selection. And according to WUSA9 reporter Jordan Fischer, the jury questionnaire is typical of what is usually presented during the vetting process, but for Bannon’s case, jurors will be asked specifically if they are familiar with the probe’s work, if they have watched the hearings, and if they have any opinions about Bannon that may make it impossible for them to render an impartial verdict. 


This story is developing.