Steve Bannon sentenced to prison for defying Jan. 6 subpoena

Former White House senior strategist Steve Bannon arrives at the Federal District Court House for the fifth day of his contempt of Congress trial on July 22, 2022, in Washington, D.C. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images/TNS)

Sabrina Willmer

Bloomberg News

Steve Bannon, a longtime adviser to former President Donald Trump, was ordered to spend four months in prison and pay a $6,500 fine for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Bannon, 68, was sentenced by Judge Carl J. Nichols in federal court in Washington Friday after a jury in July found him guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify and hand over documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

Nichols said he would release Bannon from the sentence if he files a timely appeal.

During the hearing Friday, Bannon’s attorneys had argued the offense level should be lowered because he accepted responsibility. But Nichols disagreed and said that Bannon “expressed no remorse for his actions” and he has yet to show an intention to comply with the subpoena.

The government asked that Bannon be sentenced to six months in prison and pay a $200,000 fine. His defense attorneys say he should only have to undergo probation, or should be able to serve any sentence in home confinement.

Bannon chose to hide behind a claim of executive privilege and advice of counsel, and thumbed his nose at requests from the Jan. 6 congressional committee, prosecutor J.P. Cooney told the judge. “Your honor, the defendant is not above the law.”

Bannon, a right-wing media figure who is credited with helping Trump win the presidency in 2016, is so far the only person in the former president’s circle who has been tried for refusing to cooperate with the House committee. Peter Navarro, Trump’s former trade adviser, faces similar charges.

A jury in July found Bannon guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to testify and hand over documents to the Jan. 6 committee.

Bannon’s attorney, David Schoen, argued that his client didn’t flout the law or have any intention to do anything unlawful. He complied with the advice from his lawyer that he was bound by executive privilege, said Schoen. He followed the only lawful course he could take.

“That’s not a man who thinks he is above the law,” Schoen said. He said Bannon is upholding “the greatest values we hold in this country with respect to the Constitution.”

When given the opportunity to speak in court, Bannon said, “My laywers have spoken for me, your honor.” On the way into the courthouse Friday he called the Biden administration “illegitimate.”

In court, Schoen argued against a mandatory minimum prison sentence in urging the judge to sentence his client to probation. “We don’t put someone in prison unless they believe they did something wrong,” he said.

Nichols disagreed with the defense and said there is a mandatory minimum and the statute is clear and sets a one month minimum per charge.

The government, in a filing, had urged the judge for a harsher sentence, citing Bannon’s continued refusal to comply with the subpoena and claiming those actions “exacerbated the assault on the Capitol.”

Bannon “has never taken a single step to comply with the Committee’s subpoena and has acted in bad faith throughout by claiming he was merely acting on former President Trump’s instructions — even though former President Trump’s attorney made clear he was not,” according to a government filing.

Criminal contempt of Congress, while rarely prosecuted, has usually resulted in prison sentences, according to the government. In their sentencing memo, prosecutors referenced several examples from the 1960s, including a six-month sentence given to organized crime boss Peter Licavoli, who was convicted for refusing to testify in response to a congressional subpoena. Bannon’s lawyers wrote in a filing that their client shouldn’t be put in the same camp as Licavoli, who had a lengthy criminal history at the time of his sentencing.

In pushing for a lighter sentence, Bannon’s lawyers detailed in a filing their client’s rise from working-class beginnings, citing his military career, Ivy-League education and time as a Trump adviser.

Bannon refused to disclose information about his personal finances to the probation office responsible for assessing his ability to pay fines, according to the government sentencing memo. Instead, Bannon insisted he would be able to pay any fine imposed, the memo shows.

Meanwhile, Bannon is fighting state charges he defrauded contributors to a privately funded U.S.-Mexico border wall out of more than $15 million. Bannon has pleaded not guilty to money-laundering, fraud and conspiracy. The federal government brought a similar case against Bannon, but Trump pardoned him before the case went to trial.


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