Trump-appointed judge rejected Steve Bannon's request to delay his contempt of Congress trial and also severely limited his defense arguments

Trump-appointed judge rejected Steve Bannon's request to delay his contempt of Congress trial and also severely limited his defense arguments
Steve Bannon asked to delay his mid-July trial by at least three months.Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images
  • A judge dealt Steve Bannon a string of setbacks as he prepares to stand trial on July 18.
  • Judge Carl Nichols also rejected Bannon's effort to call House members to testify.

A federal judge refused to delay the July 18 trial of Steve Bannon on contempt of Congress charges, rejecting the onetime Trump advisor's request to push back the closely-watched criminal proceeding in light of publicity around the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

"I see no reason for extending this case any longer," said Judge Carl Nichols, at the close of an hours-long hearing in federal court.

"While I am certainly cognizant of Mr. Bannon's concerns regarding publicity, in my view the correct mechanism at this time for addressing that concern is through the [jury selection] process," he added.

The decision from Nichols, a Trump appointee confirmed in 2019, punctuated a devastating string of rulings that will limit Bannon's defense as he stands trial on a pair of contempt charges, each carrying a maximum sentence of up to a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.

In addition to denying the requested delay, Nichols handed the Justice Department victories on virtually all of the other pre-trial points of disagreement with Bannon.


At the House's request, he quashed Bannon's subpoena seeking records and testimony from Speaker Nancy Pelosi and members of the January 6 committee. Nichols also rejected Bannon's request to raise executive privilege claims at trial and limited other defenses, including a challenge to the composition of the House January 6 committee and arguments that the Justice Department was going against its own policies in prosecuting him.

The judge had previously ruled that Bannon could not argue he was relying on the advice of counsel in refusing to sit for questioning or turn over subpoenaed records.

"What's the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?" asked Bannon's defense lawyer David Schoen, as the hearing came to an end.

Earlier in the hearing, Schoen noted the number of outstanding pre-trial matters and openly wondered whether he could effectively present a defense without a delay of the trial. Nichols appeared to sympathize with that argument.

If he'd ruled in favor of Bannon in a way that would "greatly expand or complicate" the case, "perhaps all that would favor an extension," Nichols said. "But the motions did not pan out that way."


Nichols said he would allow Bannon to present evidence about prior subpoenas he received and whether he was aware of the deadlines to respond to the House January 6 committee.

His rulings came just days after a remarkable turnaround from Bannon in his posture with the House January 6 committee. After months of stonewalling, Bannon told the House committee that he would testify after all, citing a weekend letter from Donald Trump saying the former president would waive his claims of executive privilege.

But the Justice Department, in an overnight court filing, said Monday that Trump lawyer Justin Clark confirmed in an FBI interview that the former president "never invoked executive privilege over any particular information or material."

Federal prosecutors said Bannon's purported desire to testify before the House committee should not sidetrack the trial. In court on Monday, assistant US attorney Molly Gaston said Bannon committed his offense last year when he refused to give testimony or turn over documents, and his decision months later to agree to sit for questioning has "no bearing on the criminal case."

In the overnight court filing, prosecutors said Bannon's "last-minute efforts to testify, almost nine months after his default — he has still made no effort to produce records — are irrelevant to whether he willfully refused to comply in October 2021 with the Select Committee's subpoena," federal prosecutors wrote.


His "sudden wish to testify," prosecutors added, "is not a genuine effort to meet his obligations but a last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability."

Bannon's defense team first asked for the delay in late June — three weeks before the trial's scheduled July 18 start — to avoid the "media blitz" by the House January 6 committee. Arguing that the panel's hearings had generated an "unprecedented level of prejudicial pretrial publicity," Bannon's lawyers proposed that the trial begin no earlier than mid-October.

"It would be impossible to guarantee Mr. Bannon a fair trial in the middle of much-publicized Select Committee hearings which purport to broadcast investigative "findings" on topics that are referenced in the indictment," Bannon's defense lawyers wrote.

His lawyers highlighted House January 6 committee hearings that featured Bannon. At the committee's first hearing, on June 9, the panel played footage of Bannon speaking on his podcast on the eve of the January 6 attack.

"All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this. All hell is going to break loose tomorrow," Bannon said.


But federal prosecutors pushed back, arguing that the House January 6 committee's most recent hearings and the news coverage of them "have almost nothing to do" with Bannon or the charges against him." In a court filing, prosecutors said Bannon had given the false impression "that all of the Committee's hearings and the attendant media coverage is about him.

"The truth is just the opposite—the defendant has barely been mentioned in the committee's hearings or the resulting media coverage of them," prosecutors said.

For the Justice Department, Bannon's case represents the first test of its efforts to prosecute Trump allies accused of snubbing the House committee investigating the Capitol attack and broader efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

The House voted in October to hold Bannon in contempt and recommend that the Justice Department charge him with contempt of Congress. Within weeks of that vote, a grand jury indicted Bannon on a pair of contempt charges tied to his refusal to sit for questioning or turn over documents.

In the following months, the House took similar votes to hold former White House chief of Staff Mark Meadows and two other onetime Trump advisors — Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro — in contempt of Congress. The Justice Department declined to bring charges against Meadows and Scavino, who served as deputy White House chief of staff.


But prosecutors secured an indictment of Navarro, who pleaded not guilty and is set to stand trial in November.