WASHINGTON (AP) — The Justice Department declared Monday that Steve Bannon should serve six months behind bars and pay a $200,000 fine for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Convicted last summer, the longtime ally of former President Donald Trump should get a hefty sentence because he “pursued a bad-faith strategy of defiance and contempt” and he publicly disparaged the committee itself, undermining the effort to get to the bottom of the violent attack and keep anything like it from happening again, federal attorneys wrote. He has not yet provided any documents or answered any questions, they said.
“The rioters who overran the Capitol on January 6 did not just attack a building — they assaulted the rule of law upon which this country was built and through which it endures,” federal attorneys wrote in court documents. “By flouting the Select Committee’s subpoena and its authority, the Defendant exacerbated that assault.”
The Justice Department statement comes after the committee took the extraordinary step last week to subpoena Trump himself, something panel members said was necessary to get the full story of what happened during and before last year’s attack. It’s unclear how Trump will respond to the summons. Refusal to comply could open up a similar path in court — though holding a former president in contempt would be an unprecedented and fraught process.
Bannon’s lawyers, meanwhile, deny he was acting in bad faith. They’re asking for probation, even though his two contempt convictions each carries a mandatory minimum of one month behind bars. They’re also asking for the sentence to be paused while an appeal plays out.
“Imposing a sentence of incarceration under the circumstances of Mr. Bannon’s case would run contrary to the fundamental constitutional principles of individualized sentencing and sentencing proportionality,” defense attorneys wrote.
Bannon is to be sentenced Friday on the two counts of contempt of Congress: one for refusing to sit for a deposition and the other for refusing to provide documents. The committee had sought Bannon’s testimony over his involvement in Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.
The former Trump adviser was convicted after a four-day jury trial in July. Outside the courthouse, he compared the trial to a battle and said “we’re not going to lose this war,” then referred to members of the committee as “gutless.” His lawyers acknowledged Monday he has “strong political views.”
Bannon, 68, initially argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege, but the House committee was skeptical because the adviser had been fired from the White House in 2017 and was thus a private citizen when he was consulting with the then-president before the riot.
Trump’s own lawyer told Bannon’s lawyer in October 2021 that he didn’t believe there was immunity for him and the former president was not telling him to defy the subpoena, according to Monday’s sentencing memo.
Bannon, though, argues that Trump had raised executive-privilege objections for himself, so his onetime adviser wanted a lawyer for the ex-president to be there for any deposition. The committee wouldn’t allow that, so Bannon’s lawyer argued the subpoena was invalid.
Many other former White House aides have testified with only their own counsel.
Bannon’s attorneys argued during his trial that he actually didn’t refuse to cooperate, that the deadline dates “were in flux.” They pointed to the fact that Bannon had reversed course shortly before the trial kicked off — after Trump waived his objection — and had offered to testify before the committee.
But that offer came with strings attached, federal attorneys wrote, including the dismissal of the criminal case against him. When it became clear that wasn’t in the cards, the possibility of cooperation faded, court records state.
Federal attorneys are also asking for the maximum fine, saying Bannon refused to cooperate with routine questions about his finances and said he could pay whatever the court imposed.
He also disparaged the committee in “exaggerated and sometimes violent” language in news conferences and on his “War Room” podcast, prosecutors wrote.
“The defendant’s statements prove that his contempt was not aimed at protecting executive privilege or the Constitution, rather it was aimed at undermining the Committee’s efforts to investigate an historic attack on government,” federal attorneys said in court documents.