On Wednesday, a federal judge denied former Trump strategist Steve Bannon’s request to dismiss the criminal contempt case against him for disobeying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee.
In an oral order, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols rejected a number of arguments made by Bannon, including that Trump had used presidential privilege to prevent his former adviser from testifying. Nichols said that there is little proof that Trump actually asserted privilege or sought to prevent Bannon from testifying before the House panel formed to investigate the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol storming and related incidents.
Bannon’s assertion that internal Justice Department opinions offered him “immunity” from a congressional subpoena for materials connected to his conversations with Trump while Trump was in office was also rejected by Nichols, a Trump appointee. However, Nichols stated that Bannon’s attorneys had not provided evidence that the DOJ’s opinions applied in his case — that of a former White House staffer who was subpoenaed for testimony pertaining to a prior president.
The verdict represents an early victory for the Justice Department against Bannon, who is scheduled to face trial next month on two counts of contempt of Congress. In September, the select committee subpoenaed him, but he refused to attend or submit any documentation. Bannon was found in contempt of the House in mid-October, and the DOJ charged him three weeks later.
A masked Bannon sat in the courtroom with his arms folded, wearing an all-black button-down shirt, while Nichols read through a series of arguments Bannon had brought against the indictment – and rejected each one. He is scheduled to face a trial in July, however his attorney, David Schoen, has suggested that given the publicity surrounding the public hearings on Jan. 6, he may seek to postpone the date.
In another victory for the select committee, Nichols declined to find that the committee’s structure or composition invalidated the subpoena to Bannon, dismissing allegations that the body was operating improperly since it lacked any appointees of House GOP Leader Kevin McCarthy.
“The court cannot conclude as a matter of law that the committee was invalidly constituted,” Nichols stated. He highlighted that the House had frequently ratified the select committee’s work by voting in favour of its motions to hold various witnesses in contempt, indicating that the House regarded the committee’s work as genuine. Courts, he pointed out, are bound to defer to the House’s interpretation of its own rules.
However, Nichols had some strong words for DOJ prosecutors. He agreed with Bannon’s lawyers that the department crossed lines in obtaining Bannon’s attorney Robert Costello’s phone and email logs. Though he stated that Bannon’s actions did not support dismissal of the case entirely, he stated that he plans to examine the topic following Bannon’s trial.
Several additional motions concerning the evidence in Bannon’s trial, as well as a difficult issue regarding how jurors in the case would be instructed to analyze the evidence presented at trial – will be determined at a later date, according to Nichols.