Judge Rules Bannon Must Face Criminal Contempt Trial
WASHINGTON — Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon must face trial on criminal contempt of Congress charges stemming from his refusal to cooperate with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, riot on Capitol Hill.
In a ruling handed down Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols said Bannon’s attorneys had failed to convince him that the Select Committee to Investigate the Jan. 6 Attack on the U.S. Capitol was improperly constituted.
Bannon’s argument was predicated on his claim that the committee doesn’t have a bona fide ranking member to represent the GOP’s interests during its deliberations, and that it has only nine members when House rules appear to mandate it should have 13.
In rejecting that argument, Nichols said the Constitution compelled him to give great weight to the House’s interpretation of its own rules. He also said his taking any action pertaining to internal House rules would raise separation of powers issues.
Bannon’s lawyers also argued that various past U.S. Justice Department memos led Bannon to believe he could not be charged for refusing to comply with the committee’s demand for documents and his testimony.
Specifically, they referred to opinions issued by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, which said executive branch officials cannot be prosecuted for contempt for refusing to testify before Congress on matters covered by executive privilege.
Nichols rejected this argument on the grounds that though Bannon had served in the Trump White House early in the administration, he was not an executive branch employee when insurgents loyal to the former president stormed the Capitol to disrupt certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election.
Nichols’ ruling was delivered from the bench after nearly three hours of arguments Wednesday morning on several evidentiary motions as well as Bannon’s motion to dismiss.
The judge’s decision clears the way for the start of Bannon’s trial on contempt charges next month.
There may, however, be a delay as an attorney for Bannon has said he would likely ask that the trial be moved outside the District of Columbia due to publicity associated with the recent start of public hearings by the select committee.
Bannon has pleaded not guilty.