WASHINGTON — The Justice Department on Monday said Steve Bannon should serve six months in jail and pay a $200,000 fine for defying a subpoena from Congress of the House of Representatives investigating the Jan. 6 riot in the US Capitol.
Former President Donald Trump’s longtime ally, convicted last summer, was set to face a hefty sentence for “employing a malicious strategy of defiance and contempt” and publicly disparaging the committee itself and undermining efforts to get to the bottom of the violent attack and prevent something like this from happening again, the federal prosecutors wrote. He had not yet submitted any documents or answered any questions, it said.
“The rioters who overran the Capitol on Jan. 6 didn’t just attack a building — they attacked the rule of law that this country is built on and sustained,” federal prosecutors wrote in court documents. “By disobeying the Select Committee’s subpoena and its authority, the Defendant compounded this attack.”
The Justice Department’s statement comes after the committee took the extraordinary step last week to subpoena Trump himself, something panel members said was necessary to get the full story of what happened during and before last year’s attack . It’s unclear how Trump will respond to the subpoena. Refusing to comply could open up a similar avenue in court – although to contempt a former president would be an unprecedented and lengthy process.
Bannon’s lawyers, meanwhile, deny he acted in bad faith. They’re asking for parole, though his two contempt convictions each face at least a month behind bars. They are also asking for the sentence to be stayed pending an appeal.
“Imposing a custodial sentence in the circumstances of Mr. Bannon’s case would run counter to the fundamental constitutional principles of individualized sentencing and proportionality of sentencing,” the defense attorneys wrote.
Bannon is scheduled to be sentenced Friday on two counts of contempt of Congress: one of refusing to participate in testimony and the other of refusing to produce documents. The committee had asked for Bannon’s testimony about his involvement in Trump’s efforts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election.
The former Trump adviser was convicted in July after a four-day jury trial. Outside the courthouse, he likened the trial to a battle and said, “We’re not going to lose this war,” then called the committee members “gutless.” His lawyers admitted on Monday that he had “strong political views”.
Bannon, 68, initially argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim to executive privilege, but the House committee was skeptical because the adviser had been fired from the White House in 2017 and was therefore a private citizen when he dealt with the then government advised. President before the uprising.
Trump’s own attorney told Bannon’s attorney in October 2021 he didn’t believe there was immunity for him and the former president hadn’t told him to resist the subpoena, according to Monday’s sentencing memo.
However, Bannon argues that Trump objected to executive privileges for himself, which is why his former adviser wanted an attorney for the ex-president to be present at every testimony. The committee wouldn’t allow it, so Bannon’s attorney argued that the subpoena was invalid.
Many other former White House staffers have only testified with their own attorney.
Bannon’s attorneys argued during his trial that he was not actually refusing to cooperate, that the deadlines were “in flux”. They pointed out that shortly before the trial began — after Trump waived his objection — Bannon changed course and offered to testify before the committee.
But that offer came with conditions, federal prosecutors wrote, including dropping the criminal case against him. When it became clear that this was out of the question, the possibility of cooperation faded, according to the court documents.
Federal prosecutors are also asking for the maximum fine, saying Bannon refused to cooperate on routine questions about his finances and said he could pay whatever the court ordered.
He also belittled the committee in press conferences and on his War Room podcast in “exaggerated and sometimes violent” language, prosecutors wrote.
“The defendant’s testimony proves that his disregard was not intended to protect executive branch privileges or the Constitution, but was intended to undermine the committee’s efforts to investigate a historic attack on the government,” federal prosecutors said in court documents.
Associated Press writer Mary Clare Jalonick contributed to this report.