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Steve Bannon goes on trial for defying Jan. 6 panel subpoena

Steve Bannon, who was chief strategist for former President Donald Trump, appears on a video screen above members of the House committee that's investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, during a hearing on July 12.
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Steve Bannon, who was chief strategist for former President Donald Trump, appears on a video screen above members of the House committee that's investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, during a hearing on July 12.

Steve Bannon, who once served as former President Donald Trump's chief strategist, goes on trial Monday for defying a subpoena from the House select committee that's investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Bannon was indicted in November on two counts of contempt of Congress after he failed to appear for a deposition before the committee or provide requested documents in response to a subpoena. He has pleaded not guilty.

If convicted, Bannon faces a minimum sentence of 30 days and a maximum of one year in prison for each count.

The trial is going ahead despite Bannon's two last-minute attempts to delay it, both of which were rejected by Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee.

It will take place in the U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., just down the street from the Capitol building, which was stormed by Trump supporters on Jan. 6, 2021, and in the shadow of a series of public hearings laying out what the committee has learned so far. The last of those hearings, focused on what Trump did during the attack, is scheduled for Thursday.

The committee subpoenaed Bannon in September 2021 for testimony and documents. It believes Bannon, 68, can share useful information about the planning for Jan. 6, 2021, including what top Trump allies discussed at a meeting he attended at the Willard InterContinental hotel in downtown Washington the evening before.

But Bannon refused to cooperate with the committee. He did not appear on Oct. 14 for testimony or hand over documents by Oct. 18 in response to the panel's subpoena, arguing that he was covered by an assertion of executive privilege by Trump, even though he was not in the administration at the time of the meeting.

The House voted to hold him in contempt and referred him to the Justice Department for prosecution. Bannon was the first of four Trump advisers to be held in contempt by the House and referred for prosecution, although only one other of the four, former White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, has been indicted.

The department declined to prosecute the other two, former Trump Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and former White House aide Dan Scavino. Experts say pursuing a case against them would have been more difficult because of how closely they worked with Trump and because they both cooperated, to a degree, with the Jan. 6 committee.

Bannon's attorneys argued last week that the trial should be postponed because the Jan. 6 committee's public hearings and the media attention around them could taint the jury pool. Nichols, the District Court judge, said that this concern can be addressed in jury selection.

Bannon also offered, a little over a week before the trial was set to open, to testify before the committee. He did not, however, offer to provide the requested documents.

Prosecutors opposed the motion, saying it was irrelevant and had no bearing on his refusal to comply with the subpoena at the time. They also sought to exclude a letter from Trump that claimed he was waiving executive privilege and a second letter from Bannon's attorney to the committee that contained Bannon's offer to testify.

Nichols left the door open to those letters potentially being used as evidence at trial to argue that Bannon didn't think the subpoena's deadlines were hard and fast.

But Nichols did rule out several other defenses Bannon could have put forward at trial, including arguing that he thought he was covered by executive privilege or that the Jan. 6 committee violated House rules because its members are largely Democrats.

The trial opens Monday with jury selection and is expected to last around a week.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.