Prosecutors Select Jury in Bannon Contempt Trial
WASHINGTON — Prosecutors were promising a quick trial of former Trump administration advisor Steve Bannon after choosing a jury in the case Monday in Washington, D.C.
Bannon is being prosecuted on two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify about his inside knowledge at the White House of decisions leading to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
Justice Department prosecutors said they plan to call only a few witnesses, mostly from the House select committee that subpoenaed him. The trial is not expected to last beyond this week.
Defense and prosecuting attorneys avoided questions to potential jury members about their feelings on Bannon and former President Donald Trump. They focused instead on how much news the potential jurors had seen or read about the Jan. 6 attack and the congressional investigation.
Bannon’s attorneys argued unsuccessfully for a delay of the trial until at least mid-October because of pre-trial publicity. U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols denied the request, saying he doubted the publicity would make it impossible to find an unbiased jury.
Everyone in the jury pool of 22 people acknowledged knowing about the case. Many said they watched at least part of the televised congressional hearings.
Their knowledge of the situation is not enough to get them removed from the jury pool under the court’s procedural rules, unless they express strong opinions.
One who was removed was a man who said he watched the congressional hearings. He then turned toward Bannon as he said, “I do believe he’s guilty.”
Jurors who made the final cut of 12 persons included a State Department employee, a health care worker, a legal aid worker and a retired woman who had been employed by a union. They said they had not formed an opinion on Bannon’s guilt or innocence.
Bannon sat mostly quiet, wearing a mask, with his hands clasped during jury selection. As he walked into court, he waved to the media and said, “Thanks for showing up.”
Before the trial, Bannon pledged he would make it the “misdemeanor from hell for [Attorney General] Merrick Garland, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi, [D-Calif.], and [President] Joe Biden.”
More recently, he offered to testify to the House select committee in an attempt to avoid trial. The judge said regardless of whether Bannon changed his mind, he already was charged with criminal contempt.
He faces at least 30 days in jail on each of the two counts and as much as one year on each count if he is convicted.
So far, Nichols has generally favored most of the motions from the prosecution, perhaps indicating the Justice Department has a strong case.
Bannon is one of several Trump administration members who have tried to avoid the congressional subpoenas by invoking “executive privilege.” The executive privilege gives the president and his staff an immunity from prosecution and congressional inquiry for their official actions.
Last week, the Justice Department filed a pleading in a separate case against former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows that addresses the executive privilege defense.
The Justice Department agreed White House staff members could claim immunity from prosecution in most cases but not while Congress is investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“The select committee has demonstrated that such information is critical to its investigation,” the Justice Department attorneys wrote.
Their filing was a response to a lawsuit filed by Meadows to block a subpoena against him. Meadows says he should be granted an “absolute immunity.”
The Justice Department argues for a “qualified immunity” after staff members leave the White House. In other words, they are immune from prosecution and congressional review unless Congress can show a need for their information.
The dispute presents a novel situation for the courts. The House select committee acknowledges that never in American history has there been such strong evidence of a coup by a sitting president.
The committee has another prime-time television hearing planned for Thursday evening. Committee members said they would show Trump’s “dereliction of duties.”