Steve Bannon's trial over defying Jan. 6 committee set to begin

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(The Hill) — Steve Bannon, ex-President Donald Trump’s former White House strategist and campaign CEO, is headed to trial this week on two contempt of Congress charges, the first to result from a refusal to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. 

The trial, which begins Monday morning with jury selection, falls amid the select panel’s series of public hearings, which have featured damning testimony and evidence about Trump and his inner circle during the riot and in the weeks leading up to it. 

Bannon, who had vowed to turn the case into “a misdemeanor from hell” for Democrats, faces up to a year in jail on each count.

The trial will mark the first time a member of Trump’s inner circle has had to face a jury as a result of the Jan. 6 investigations. In a similar case, Trump’s former trade adviser, Peter Navarro, will go to trial in November.   

The select committee had subpoenaed Bannon last year for documents and testimony as part of the investigation. When he refused to comply, the House voted to hold him in contempt, sending a criminal referral to the Justice Department. 

Last week, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols twice rejected Bannon’s requests to delay the trial over concerns about potential juror bias amid the public attention on the Jan. 6 committee. 

Bannon’s lawyers on Wednesday said in a renewed motion to delay the trial that an hourlong CNN documentary airing Sunday could prejudice potential jurors. 

“The Special Report documentary, broadcast [on] this broadly disseminated network undoubtedly will be extraordinarily inflammatory and overwhelming prejudicial for a prospective juror, beginning service in this trial the following day,” they wrote in a court filing. 

Nichols, a Trump appointee, disagreed, saying that any concerns about prejudice could be addressed during the jury selection process. 

Federal prosecutors are hoping to make a straightforward case that Bannon did not comply with a lawful subpoena. They said they intend to call just two witnesses – Kristen Amerling, the select committee’s general counsel, and an FBI special agent named Stephen Hart – and reserved the possibility of calling a third, Sean Tonolli, another committee counsel. 

Bannon’s defense team has pushed to include various arguments that could complicate the government’s case with mixed results in the pretrial proceedings. 

Nichols has rejected the defense’s effort to mount a defense that Bannon was relying on the advice of his lawyers when declining to come forward with the information the select committee demanded.  

The judge also said the defense would not be able to call Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) or other lawmakers to testify at trial. 

At a pretrial hearing last week, David Schoen, one of Bannon’s attorneys, expressed frustration that Nichols had significantly limited how the defense team could proceed at trial. 

“What’s the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?” Schoen asked, according to The Associated Press. 

“Agreed,” the judge responded. 

But Nichols also denied the Justice Department’s effort to exclude any evidence related to Bannon’s recent and sudden offer to testify before the select committee. The judge said he would consider the issue during trial. 

Bannon’s reversal came earlier this month, when his lawyer sent a letter to the select committee saying Trump had agreed to waive executive privilege and allow his outside adviser to testify. 

But prosecutors said they had interviewed Trump’s own attorney in June, who told them that the former president had never even asserted executive privilege regarding Bannon in the first place. 

“Even the Defendant’s claim that the reason he is now willing to testify is because the former President is ‘waiving’ executive privilege is subject to question given all of the evidence and law that has been addressed in this case, of which he must be aware, demonstrating that executive privilege never provided a basis for total noncompliance in the first place,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing earlier this month.  

The defense team has said they may call Bannon to the stand, but the decision likely won’t be made until the trial is underway. 

Bannon and Trump have had an up-and-down relationship since the 68-year-old political strategist joined the 2016 campaign. Bannon briefly served as a White House political strategist in 2017 before apparently losing favor with Trump.

Still, the then-president pardoned Bannon on his last day in office, when his ally and still-vocal defender was facing fraud and money laundering charges related to a nonprofit that was fundraising off plans to privately finance the construction of a wall along the border with Mexico.

The select committee’s hearings have renewed interest in information that Bannon might possess. Last week, the panel presented White House records showing he spoke with Trump twice on the day before the attack. 

They also played a clip of a Jan. 5 appearance Bannon made on a right-wing talk show after his first call with the then-president in which he predicted there would be mayhem the following day. 

“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Bannon said in the clip. “It’s all converging, and now we’re on, as they say, the point of attack.” 

“I’ll tell you this: It’s not going to happen like you think it’s going to happen,” he added. “It’s going to be quite extraordinarily different, and all I can say is strap in.”

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