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Steve Bannon sentenced to prison on contempt of Congress charges

Four-month term wouldn't start until after he could appeal his conviction for defying House Jan. 6 panel subpoena

Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, arrives for sentencing at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington on Friday.
Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, arrives for sentencing at the E. Barrett Prettyman Courthouse in Washington on Friday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

A federal judge in Washington on Friday sentenced Steve Bannon to four months in prison for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols allowed Bannon to be released pending a possible appeal of his conviction on two counts of contempt of Congress. Nichols also imposed a $6,500 fine on Bannon, a former White House adviser to President Donald Trump.

Bannon, who argued that he had followed the advice of his attorneys to not testify because Trump had invoked executive privilege, has until Nov. 15 to appeal or surrender for his prison sentence. He is expected to appeal.

In pronouncing the sentence, Nichols noted the “serious” nature of the attack on the Capitol as well as Bannon’s conduct, which he said “betrays a lack of respect for the legislative branch.”

But Nichols also noted that the committee never sought to enforce the subpoena through a civil lawsuit. And he said Bannon had raised questions about what he should be responsible for if he relied on the “overly aggressive” advice of his attorneys.

Nichols also said Bannon had not provided any testimony or documents that there was an actual invocation of executive privilege — his primary reason for not testifying.

“Even though in July of this year, the former president withdrew any executive privilege barrier to Mr. Bannon’s production of documents or testimony, Mr. Bannon still has not produced a single document,” Nicholas said.

The sentence was less than the six months the government had requested, and more than the no prison sentence Bannon’s attorney, David Schoen, argued for in court Friday. Nichols also rejected a government request for a $200,000 fine.

In the courtroom

Prior to the sentence, Assistant U.S. Attorney J.P. Cooney called Bannon’s defense a “smokescreen” and said he relied on a “fabricated claim of executive privilege and advice of counsel.”

“Throughout this case, he has tried to make it about nothing else other than politics and retribution,” Cooney said.

Bannon’s attorney argued that Bannon had received a letter from Trump asserting executive privilege related to the subpoena. Bannon then had offered to testify if the panel worked out privilege issues with Trump or sought civil enforcement.

“That is not a person acting above the law, that is a person acting consistent with the law,” Schoen said.

Schoen criticized the Jan. 6 committee at the sentencing hearing, saying the panel had a “partisan, political agenda” and said Bannon should not be punished for similar criticisms of the panel.

In July, a federal jury convicted Bannon on two counts of contempt of Congress after a weeklong trial. The conviction comes with a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days, but did not compel Bannon to comply with the subpoena.

Bannon previously hinted at launching an appeal of his conviction over restrictions the judge placed on him presenting evidence as well as the jury instructions.

The panel held possibly its last hearing last week. There, tapes of Bannon’s public comments about Trump’s plan to overturn the 2020 election played a prominent role in the committee’s effort to buttress its case for a subpoena for the former president’s testimony.

Bannon co-founded Breitbart News and worked as CEO of Trump’s election campaign in 2016. Following that, he served as a senior adviser in the Trump White House before leaving in the fall of 2017.

The panel subpoenaed Bannon last September, and the House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress in October. A federal grand jury later indicted Bannon on two charges of contempt in November.

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