On Monday, jury selection started in the criminal trial of Steve Bannon, a famous former presidential assistant to Donald Trump, for disobeying a congressional panel investigating last year’s assault on the United States Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.

Bannon, 68, is facing two misdemeanor charges of contempt of Congress after refusing to deliver evidence or documents to a House select committee run by Democrats.

After questioning by attorneys for both sides, eight possible jurors have been declared eligible to serve in the trial as of noon. The case will be heard by a jury of 12, plus two alternates.

Bannon had unsuccessfully sought a postponement in the trial from U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, saying that the committee’s high-profile public hearings would make it more difficult to assemble an unbiased jury.

Last Monday, the committee released evidence that Bannon communicated with Trump at least twice the day before the January 6, 2021, assault. The committee also presented a tape of Bannon warning on a right-wing talk station on Jan. 5 that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” According to the committee, Bannon made similar remarks during his initial conversation with Trump.

Despite concerns from Bannon’s defense, Nichols permitted one woman to stay as a possible juror despite her claim that she had observed the committee sessions. The court observed that the lady said she had not prejudged the issue, adding that “the mere fact of media coverage is not enough” to exclude her from the hearing.

The committee intends to conduct another hearing on Thursday evening, aiming for a large broadcast audience. Bannon’s trial will very certainly still be ongoing at that date. Nichols said on Monday that it may last into next week.

Bannon has claimed that the information requested by the committee was shielded by executive privilege, a legal tenet that allows some presidential interactions to remain private.

This month, Trump informed Bannon that he was renouncing any claim to executive privilege.

Bannon altered direction last month, announcing his intention to appear before a public committee meeting, some ten months after refusing to comply with the subpoena. There has been no sign of any intention to have him do so, since the committee would most likely want him to first speak in secret sessions to cover a broad variety of issues.

Nichols decided that Bannon cannot utilize executive privilege as a defense and cannot say he was acting on the advice of his counsel when he refused to testify or give documents. Nichols has left the door open for Bannon to introduce proof of his recent promise to help with the panel as a defense.

Trump supporters stormed the Capitol in an unsuccessful attempt to prevent formal congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.

Bannon helped establish the “America First” right-wing populism and vehement hostility to immigration that helped define Trump’s administration as a major advisor to the Republican Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and then as White House chief strategist.

Separately, in 2020, Bannon was accused with scamming contributors to a private fund-raising campaign to support Trump’s ambition to construct a wall along the US-Mexico border. Bannon was later pardoned by Trump before the matter could go to trial.

Source: Reuters

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