Steve Bannon, a close associate of former President Donald Trump and a prominent figure on the American right, was found guilty of contempt of Congress on Friday for ignoring a subpoena from the committee investigating last year’s attack on the United States Capitol, a major victory for the Democratic-led panel.
A jury convicted Bannon, 68, guilty of two misdemeanor charges for refusing to deliver testimony or records to a House of Representatives select committee investigating a Jan. 6, 2021, rampage by Trump supporters attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
Each count is punishable by 30 days to one year in prison and a fine ranging from $100 to $100,000. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols set the sentencing date on October 21.
After less than three hours of deliberation, the jury of eight men and four women returned a guilty verdict, marking the first successful prosecution for contempt of Congress since 1974, when a judge found G. Gordon Liddy, a conspirator in the Watergate scandal that forced President Richard Nixon’s resignation, guilty.
Bannon was a major adviser to Republican Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign before becoming his chief White House strategist in 2017, after which the two had a falling out that was eventually patched up. Bannon has also been influential in right-wing media.
“We lost a battle here today. We’re at war,” Bannon told reporters after the verdict.
Bannon castigated the “members of that show-trial committee” who he said “didn’t have the guts to come down here and testify in open court.” Bannon elected not to testify in his own defense.
In closing arguments on Friday, his defense team argued to jurors that Bannon was a political target, and portrayed the chief prosecution witness as a politically motivated Democrat with ties to one of the prosecutors, including membership in the same book club. According to the prosecution, Bannon demonstrated contempt for congressional authority and should be held accountable for his unconstitutional defiance.
Prosecutor Molly Gaston told jurors that the incident was a “dark day” for America, adding, “There is nothing political about finding out why Jan. 6 happened and making sure it never happens again.”
Evan Corcoran, one of Bannon’s attorneys, told jurors, “The question is, ‘Why? Why was Steve Bannon singled out?”
Following the verdict, one of Bannon’s attorneys, David Schoen, guaranteed his client will have “a bullet-proof appeal.”
The judge restricted the scope of Bannon’s team’s case. Bannon was prevented from claiming that his interactions with Trump were protected by executive privilege, a legal tenet that allows certain presidential communications to remain private, and he was barred from claiming that his refusal to cooperate was based on legal advice from an attorney.
Two days of testimony were heard during the trial. Only two witnesses were questioned by prosecutors. The defense made no calls.
The conviction might help the committee’s case as it pursues testimony and documents from additional people in Trump’s orbit. Trump asked his associates not to assist last year, accusing the committee of attempting to harm him politically. Several people rebuffed the panel.
Peter Navarro, another former Trump adviser, was charged with contempt of Congress in June for refusing to appear for a committee deposition. The trial for Navarro is set for November. more info
Despite a House majority recommending it, the Justice Department chose not to charge Trump associates Mark Meadows and Daniel Scavino for defying the committee.