Trump ally Steve Bannon should get 6 months in prison for defying the House January 6 committee, federal prosecutors say
- Prosecutors said Steve Bannon made a "hollow gesture" with a late bid to cooperate with the House.
- Bannon asked for a probation-only sentence and bemoaned "outdated" caselaw that limited his defense.
Federal prosecutors on Monday recommended that longtime Trump ally Steve Bannon receive a six-month prison sentence for defying the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol and efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
In a 24-page court filing, federal prosecutors said Bannon should also pay a $200,000 fine for his "sustained, bad-faith contempt of Congress."
"The committee sought documents and testimony from the Defendant relevant to a matter of national importance: the circumstances that led to a violent attack on the Capitol and disruption of the peaceful transfer of power," prosecutors argued. "In response, the Defendant flouted the Committee's authority and ignored the subpoena's demands."
A jury convicted Bannon in July on a pair of contempt of Congress charges stemming from his refusual to sit for questioning or turn over records to the House January 6 committee. The conviction, coming after only a few hours of deliberation, handed the Justice Department a decisive victory in a high-profile, politically charged trial against the onetime White House chief strategist for former President Donald Trump.
The Justice Department pursued charges against Bannon following a referral from the House recommending a prosecution against the former Trump advisor. After that initial referral, the House went on to hold three other former Trump White House advisors — Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino, and Peter Navarro — in contempt.
But, of those three, the Justice Department only brought charges against Navarro, who is set to stand trial in November.
Bannon declined to testify in his own defense or call any witnesses. But he emerged from the federal courthouse in Washington, DC, after each day of his trial to rail against the House January 6 panel.
"I only have one disappointment, and that is the gutless members of that show trial committee — the J6 committee — didn't have the guts to come down here and testify in open court," Bannon said outside court in July.
On the day of his guilty verdict, Bannon pledged to appeal, declaring that he had lost the "battle" but not the "war." His defense team is expected to formally challenge the criminal conviction to the US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit following his sentencing on October 21.
In his own court filing Monday, Bannon said he should avoid prison time and instead receive a probation-only sentence. Bannon's lawyers also asked Nichols to stay the sentencing pending their appeal to the DC Circuit and argued that "outdated" caselaw limited their defense of the former Trump advisor at trial.
Ahead of the trial, Nichols handed down a series of rulings that left Bannon all but defenseless. Nichols, a Trump appointee, ruled that Bannon's lawyers could not argue that executive privilege excused his refusal to sit for questioning or turn over records to the House January 6 committee. The judge similarly prevented Bannon's defense team from arguing that his past role as former President Donald Trump's chief White House strategist justified his defiance.
In their sentencing recommendation, federal prosecutors noted that Bannon claimed that executive privilege "justified his actions" with the House January 6 committee, even though that privilege "did not apply to him and would not have exempted his total noncompliance even if it did." On the eve of trial, Bannon attempted an about-face and told the committee that Trump had waived executive privilege and freed him to cooperate with the panel's investigation.
"But this proved a hollow gesture; when he realized that his eleventh-hour stunt would not prevent his trial, the Defendant's cooperative spirit vanished," prosecutors said. "Despite the removal of the only purported barrier to his compliance, to this day the Defendant has not produced a single document to the Committee or appeared for testimony."
In their court filings Monday, prosecutors revealed that one of Bannon's defense lawyers, Evan Corcoran, contacted the House January 6 committee just days before trial to push the congressional panel to recommend that the Justice Department drop charges in exchange for Bannon's cooperation. The House committee's top investigator, Timothy Heaphy, took contemporaneous notes of the call and had a staff member join as a potential witness.
Later, while being interviewed by an FBI agent, Heaphy "described the overall 'vibe' of his conversation with Corcoran as defense counsel's attempt to solicit the Select Committee's assistance in their effort to delay Bannon's criminal trial and obtain a dismissal of the contempt of Congress charges pending against him," according to a summary of the October 7 interview.
The Justice Department's sentencing recommendation came just days after the House January 6 committee held its ninth — and likely final — public hearing to air the findings of its more than year-long investigation. The hearing featured an audio recording of Bannon predicting just days before the 2020 election that, "If Biden is winning, Trump is going to do some crazy shit."
"If Trump is losing by 10 or 11 at night, it's going to be even crazier … He's going to sit right there and say, 'They stole it. I'm directing the attorney general to shut down all ballot places in all 50 states,'" Bannon told associates on October 31, 2020.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said the recording was evidence that Bannon had "advance knowledge" of Trump's intent to falsely declare victory on election night.
Later in the hearing, Rep. Liz Cheney, the Republican vice chairperson of the House January 6 committee, identified Bannon as among those who had "gone to enormous lengths to avoid testifying about their dealings with Donald Trump."
"Steve Bannon has been tried and convicted by a jury of his peers for contempt of Congress," she added. "He is scheduled to be sentenced for this crime later this month."
At the end of the hearing, the House January 6 committee voted unanimously to subpoena Trump to testify.
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