Bannon Accused of Trying to Orchestrate Trial by Media
WASHINGTON — Prosecutors on Sunday accused former Trump advisor Stephen K. Bannon of trying to defend against the criminal charges he faces through the media instead of federal court.
They said in a court filing that Bannon wants to share witness statements with reporters in an attempt to discredit the government’s case.
Bannon is charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for failing to respond to a subpoena during an investigation of the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
The Justice Department attorneys mentioned a statement Bannon made to the Washington Post last week as an example of his effort to create a trial by media.
“Members of the public should make their own independent judgment as to whether the U.S. Department of Justice is committed to a just result based upon all the facts,” Bannon reportedly said.
The prosecutors described Bannon’s tactic as the equivalent of witness tampering. They are asking a judge for an order to stop Bannon from further releases of information about the case to the media, also known as a gag order.
“Allowing the defendant to publicly disseminate reports of witness statements will have the collateral effect of witness tampering because it will expose witnesses to public commentary on their potential testimony before trial and allow a witness to review summaries of other witnesses’ statements recounting the same event or events,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.
They said the information Bannon wants to release includes communications between congressional staff members and FBI interviews of witnesses likely to testify against Bannon. It was given to his attorneys under the label of “Sensitive” material that was not supposed to be released publicly.
The House select committee issued the subpoena Bannon is accused of defying. He allegedly had information from the Trump administration that led him to predict civil disobedience Jan. 6.
Bannon reportedly spoke with then-President Donald Trump on Dec. 30, 2020, a week before the insurrection. Grand jury witnesses said he urged Trump to focus his efforts on the Jan. 6 rally in Washington where the president complained that voter fraud stole his re-election from him.
Bannon attended a meeting with Trump’s staff at the Willard Hotel in Washington on Jan. 5 that included discussion about overturning the 2020 presidential election.
Witnesses quoted Bannon saying, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
He pleaded not guilty this month to the two misdemeanor charges. The next hearing is set for Dec. 7 to schedule a trial date and to update the judge on any pretrial questions that need resolution.
After his first court appearance on Nov. 15, Bannon told the media his case would be the “misdemeanor from hell” for President Joe Biden and other Democrats. He pledged to “go on the offense” with his legal defense.
His attorneys filed a motion last week to unseal grand jury testimony and any other evidence in the case. They argued that keeping it secret could prejudice, or interfere, with Bannon’s right to a fair trial.
“The government’s proposed order would give it the ability to influence what documents are available for use by defense counsel in preparing a defense…” the defense attorneys wrote in their court filing.
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Washington, D.C. responded Sunday by saying in its motion that releasing all the evidence would trample the privacy of witnesses, perhaps influencing their willingness to cooperate during trial.
“The defendant’s threat of ‘going on offense’ and making this case ‘hell’ cannot be ignored when considering these witnesses’ privacy interests in their personal background information,” the U.S. Attorney’s office filing says.
Tom can be reached at [email protected]
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