Washington — Steve Bannon, former President Donald Trump’s chief White House strategist and campaign CEO, faces sentencing on Friday after a jury convicted him on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Bannon was found guilty in July and has filed notice that he intends to appeal his conviction.
Prosecutors asked Judge Carl Nichols to send Bannon to prison for six months, at the higher end of the sentencing guidelines for this case, and impose a $200,000 fine for what they argued was “his sustained, bad-faith contempt of Congress.” Bannon’s team asked for a probationary sentence and a delay in any possible prison time pending his appeal.
Bannon, a private citizen at the time of the Jan. 6 committee’s creation last year, was charged after he rebuffed the panel’s demand that he sit for a deposition with investigators and hand over documents relevant to the congressional probe.
The committee originally sought information from Bannon in 17 key areas, ranging from his communications with Trump to his knowledge of coordination between right-wing extremist groups in carrying out the Capitol attack.
Bannon pleaded not guilty, and what followed was a tumultuous legal battle between the defense and prosecutors over which evidence was admissible at trial, Bannon’s efforts to postpone the proceedings, and the televised hearings showcasing the House Jan. 6 select committee’s evidence, which referenced Bannon multiple times.
During the July trial, prosecutors told the jury that Bannon thought he was “above the law” and “thumbed his nose” at congressional demands, while Bannon himself did not testify and his legal team called no witnesses.
The Trump ally maintained at the time of his refusal that he could not testify because of executive privilege concerns raised by the former president, adding that his attorney, Robert Costello, had advised him not to comply with the subpoena because of those concerns. Nichols ruled that because of binding precedent from a higher court, Bannon’s legal team could not present a defense known as “advice of counsel” to the jury. That ruling is the subject of Bannon’s appeal.
In a surprising about-face days before the trial began, Bannon told the Jan. 6 committee that he would be willing to testify — publicly – after Costello said Trump had reversed course on those executive privilege claims.
In their pre-sentencing memo, prosecutors alleged Bannon used that apparent change of heart in an attempt to pressure prosecutors to drop the case entirely on the eve of trial, accusing him of trying to get the congressional investigators who wanted his testimony to convince the Justice Department to dismiss the charges should he cooperate.
“The Defendant attempted to leverage the information he had unlawfully withheld from the Committee to engineer dismissal of his criminal prosecution,” prosecutors wrote earlier this week.
“The factual record in this case is replete with proof that with respect to the Committee’s subpoena, the Defendant consistently acted in bad faith and with the purpose of frustrating the Committee’s work.”
But Bannon’s attorneys argued their client was convicted for following the advice of his attorney and had been politically targeted for his actions.
“The facts of this case show that Mr. Bannon’s conduct was based on his good-faith reliance on his lawyer’s advice,” his legal team wrote earlier this week, “Based upon clear authority, Mr. Costello provided legal advice to Mr. Bannon. Mr. Costello provided legal justifications for Mr. Bannon’s position to the Select Committee and received responses back from Select Committee attorneys. Mr. Costello provided advice to Mr. Bannon, and Mr. Bannon acted on that advice.”
A term of imprisonment, they argued, was unconstitutional because Bannon thought he was acting lawfully.