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Steve Bannon will claim 'political prosecution' in congressional contempt case, defense says

The longtime ally of Donald Trump faces a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days in jail on each of two counts if convicted.

WASHINGTON — Stephen K. Bannon, the longtime ally and former campaign manager of former President Donald Trump, will begin trial in mid-July for defying a congressional subpoena from the January 6th Committee.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed to the federal bench by Trump in 2019, set Bannon’s trial to begin on July 18, 2022 – saying he thought the defense’s request for an October start date was too long to wait, but the Justice Department’s ask for an April trial was too quick.

The DOJ told the court in a status briefing Monday that it believed it would only need a single day to present its case to a jury. Bannon’s defense team, comprised of attorneys Evan Corcoran and David Schoen, said in the same briefing their case could take as long as two weeks.

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Corcoran and Schoen raised a “host of arguments,” as Nichols said, on Tuesday, including allegations of political prosecution and inappropriate bias in the case due to comments by President Joe Biden, committee member Rep. Jamie Raskin’s (D-MD) role as a House impeachment manager in Trump’s second impeachment trial and committee Chairman Bennie Thompson’s (D-MS) ongoing civil suit against Trump stemming from the January 6 Capitol riot.

Schoen suggested the defense intends to assault the legitimacy of the January 6th Committee itself. The select committee was approved in June after the plan for a bipartisan commission failed in the U.S. Senate following heavy pressure on Republicans by Trump and his allies. The committee has since subpoenaed dozens of close Trump allies and others believed to have been involved in the planning of the January 6 “Stop the Steal” rally at the U.S. Capitol. In October, the committee voted 9-0 to hold Bannon in contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena to turn over records and appear for a deposition. Last week, the committee voted to hold a second close Trump ally, former DOJ lawyer Jeffrey Clark, in contempt as well. The full House has yet to take up a vote on the issue.

In a lengthy statement Tuesday, Schoen laid out a number of possible defenses they intend to raise on Bannon’s behalf. Those defenses include malicious prosecution, violation of what Schoen claimed was long-standing Office of Legal Counsel policy regarding current and former executive branch employees, and entrapment by estoppel – a defense that argues a defendant committed a crime because they relied on the advice of a federal official. Schoen also raised the issue of executive privilege a number of times. Bannon’s defense argues he should be covered by it, but Biden has declined to assert executive privilege in his or other cases related to January 6. Trump is currently appealing a decision by a federal judge to block the release of documents to the committee from his time in office.

Tuesday’s hearing also covered an ongoing fight between the DOJ and Bannon’s legal team about what discovery materials in the case will be covered by a protective order. Bannon, who has promised in public comments since his indictment to “go on offense” and make the case “Hell” for everyone involved, wants the vast majority of materials to be public. The DOJ argued Tuesday that he intends to release materials that should be protected – like law enforcement interviews and internal communications of January 6 Committee staffers – to create a public spectacle.

A press coalition that includes WUSA’s parent company, TEGNA, has filed a motion to intervene in the case in support of Bannon’s team’s position on the protective order. The motion argues the public’s interest in the free flow of historically important information from the case outweighs the government’s desire to designate some materials as “sensitive.”  

Nichols took the protective order arguments under advisement Tuesday and promised to issue a ruling swiftly.

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