Judge rejects Steve Bannon’s offer to issue contempt charges

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A federal judge on Wednesday denied Stephen K. Bannon’s motion to dismiss the criminal contempt case against him, saying he would allow the July 18 trial to proceed as scheduled.

Bannon, 67, was charged in November with two counts of contempt of Congress after he refused to comply with a subpoena issued months earlier by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist had asked U.S. District Carl J. Nichols to dismiss the charges, arguing that he was relying on long-standing Justice Department advice regarding Congressional subpoenas to White House aides and that he was not committing a crime when he failed. produce documents or appear before the committee.

But during a three-hour hearing on Wednesday, Nichols, a 2019 Trump appointee, repeatedly disputed his claims and ultimately ruled in favor of the Justice Department.

The ruling was a critical victory for the prosecution, which Attorney General Merrick Garland said was driven to “show the American people by word and deed that the department adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and seeks equal justice under the law”. .” It also provided a moral victory for the House committee, although a conviction would not compel Bannon to cooperate.

In particular, the judge questioned whether Bannon — who was not in the White House for the events leading up to Jan. 6 — was covered by the opinions of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which claimed that, if the president claims executive privilege, his key aides cannot be brought to testify. Nichols also rejected Bannon’s claim that the composition of the House Investigative Committee made him illegitimate.

Bannon is one of two former Trump associates whom the Justice Department is suing for refusing to comply with the committee’s Jan. 6 subpoenas. Earlier this month, Trump’s White House trade adviser, Peter Navarro, was indicted on the same contempt charges that Bannon faces. But the Justice Department at the same time revealed it would not prosecute two other high-ranking Trump aides the committee fired for contempt — former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and communications chief Daniel Scavino Jr.

Contempt charges against each carry a maximum sentence of one year in prison.

Bannon, who pleaded not guilty, argued that he refused to respond to a Sept. 23 subpoena by the committee in part on the advice of his attorney, Robert J. Costello, who said Trump claimed the executive’s privilege over the appearances of his former aides. But Nichols said it was a “contested fact” that Trump either outright invoked executive privilege or “unequivocally ordered” Bannon not to comply with the committee.

Although he rejected Bannon’s offer to dismiss the case, Nichols said he would decide later whether Bannon could raise Justice Department opinions as a defense at his trial.

David Schoen, Bannon’s defense attorney, said Bannon would seek to delay his trial, alleging that ongoing House committee hearings and statements from lawmakers are tainting the pool of potential jurors.

This is a developing story and will be updated.

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