Baltimore Sun

Bannon found guilty on contempt charge

Trump ally defied subpoena from Jan. 6 panel

- By Aishvarya Kavi and Alan Feuer

WASHINGTON — For weeks, Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to former President Donald Trump, delivered heated speeches about his pending trial, promising at one point to go “medieval” on the prosecutor­s who had charged him with refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigat­ing the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But Friday, after deciding not to testify or mount any other sort of defense in court, Bannon was convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress.

The jury’s verdict, reached after less than three hours of deliberati­ons, came one day after video of Bannon briefly appeared in a public hearing of the House committee he had snubbed. Investigat­ors played a clip of him saying that Trump had planned to declare victory in the 2020 election, no matter the results.

Bannon remained defiant outside the courthouse, saying the prosecutio­n’s assertion that he had chosen “allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law” was correct, but omitted an important detail.

“I stand with Trump and the Constituti­on,” Bannon said. “I will never back off that.”

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols set sentencing for October, but David Schoen, a lawyer for Bannon, said they would appeal the guilty verdict.

Bannon’s conviction was the latest turn in a tumultuous political career that over the years saw him take a leading role in bringing together right-wing media, presidenti­al politics and America First-style populism. He helped found the website Breitbart News, which he once described as a “platform for the alt-right,” a loosely affiliated collection of racists, misogynist­s and Islamophob­es that rose to prominence around the time of Trump’s first campaign.

Beginning in 2016, Bannon served as the campaign’s chief architect, helping Trump craft his divisive, populist message. He was brought into the White House after Trump’s victory to work as a strategist and senior counselor to the president but lasted only seven months before returning to Breitbart.

In August 2020, Bannon was arrested on the $35 million, 150-foot yacht belonging to a business associate, fugitive Chinese billionair­e Guo Wengui. Federal prosecutor­s in New York accused him of defrauding donors to a private fundraisin­g effort called We Build the Wall, which was intended to bolster Trump’s signature initiative along the Mexican border.

Trump pardoned Bannon in his final hours in office.

After Trump’s defeat in the 2020 election, Bannon once again came to his aid. He worked with Peter Navarro, a White House adviser, to devise a strategy to keep the president in office that they called the “Green Bay Sweep.” The plan called for Republican members of the House and Senate to block the counting of Electoral College votes on Jan. 6, 2021, so lawmakers in key swing states could decertify the vote results in their states and hand Trump a victory.

Bannon’s conviction was the first of a close aide to Trump to result from one of the chief investigat­ions into the Capitol attack.

Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, was indicted in November. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeano­r, with each count punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of 12 months in prison.

At the time, the filing of charges against him was widely seen as proof that the Justice Department could take an aggressive stance against some of Trump’s top allies as the House seeks to develop a fuller picture of the actions of the former president and his inner circle before and during the attack.

Despite the legal wranglings that preceded his trial, Bannon’s guilt or innocence ultimately turned on one issue: whether he had defied the House committee by flouting its subpoena. “This case is not complicate­d, but it is important,” Molly Gaston, a federal prosecutor, said in a closing statement Friday.

Gaston told the jury that the House committee had wanted to ask Bannon about his presence at the Willard Hotel before the Capitol attack, where plans to overturn the election were discussed, and about his statement the day before the assault that “all hell” was going to break loose Jan. 6.

Like many defendants, Bannon did not mount a defense case for the jury, deciding instead to rely on cross-examining the prosecutio­n’s two witnesses: a lawyer for the committee and an FBI agent who had worked on the case.

Testimony in the trial ended Wednesday as the prosecutio­n rested its case against Bannon, arguing that he had willfully ignored the subpoena for both records and testimony even after being warned that he could face criminal charges.

Bannon’s lawyers countered that the deadlines set by the committee to receive their client’s testimony and documents were flexible.

Before the trial began, Bannon reversed course and offered to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. But prosecutor­s have portrayed that move as a last-ditch attempt to avoid

 ?? JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AP ?? Steve Bannon leaves a federal court after he was found guilty Friday of criminal contempt of Congress.
JOSE LUIS MAGANA/AP Steve Bannon leaves a federal court after he was found guilty Friday of criminal contempt of Congress.

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