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Bannon asks Supreme Court to keep him out of prison

Former Trump adviser faces July 1 date to begin sentence on contempt convictions

Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, addresses the media outside federal court in Washington in 2022 after being sentenced to four months in prison.
Steve Bannon, former adviser to President Donald Trump, addresses the media outside federal court in Washington in 2022 after being sentenced to four months in prison. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon launched a last-minute bid Friday at the Supreme Court to stay out of prison as he appeals his convictions on two contempt of Congress charges.

Bannon’s emergency application to the high court seeks to keep him from reporting to prison by July 1 on a four-month prison sentence, and he filed it after two other courts denied his arguments to overturn his conviction.

Last week, a divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit panel found that Bannon’s arguments did not meet the extraordinary legal standard for him to remain free while fighting his conviction.

However, Bannon’s emergency application argued that the justices will likely eventually overturn the rare contempt of Congress conviction, and he should remain free until he gets a chance to argue his case.

Bannon’s application accused the government of “resurrecting” a law used against witnesses of the House Un-American Activities Committee in the 1950s, and argues the conviction also raises the possibility that one party that controls Congress and the White House could use contempt of Congress as a political tool.

“In the future, when the House or Senate and the Executive Branch are controlled by the same party, there is every reason to fear that former Executive Branch officials will face prison after declining to provide privileged materials to a committee, even where the position taken was based upon the advice of counsel in good faith and requested further negotiations,” Bannon’s application said.

Bannon last served in the White House in 2017, after serving as the CEO of Trump’s election campaign in 2016.

Bannon was convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress in 2022 for defying subpoenas from the House select panel investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol seeking testimony and documents related to the attack.

Since then, Bannon has argued that he was advised by his attorney that he did not have to cooperate with the investigation because the subpoena sought information subject to executive privilege.

District Judge Carl Nichols of the District of Columbia and the D.C. Circuit have rejected those arguments.

Late Thursday, a 2-1 panel of the appeals court said Bannon will have to serve out his prison term while he appeals.

In the unsigned order, Judges Cornelia Pillard and Brad Garcia wrote that Bannon’s arguments had already been rejected by their court and the Supreme Court is unlikely to overturn the conviction.

“If an assertion of good-faith reliance on advice of counsel excused a witness’s wholesale noncompliance, even as it is plainly unavailable to a more cooperative witness who appears but refuses to answer certain questions, Congress’s power of inquiry would be ‘nulli[fied],’” the order said.

Judge Justin R. Walker dissented from the order, writing that the Supreme Court has a different set of precedents and could decide the case differently. Walker described the likely appeal a “close question” that the Supreme Court could decide the other way.

“That close question may well have mattered at Bannon’s trial,” Walker wrote in a dissent. He later wrote that “Bannon should not go to prison before the Supreme Court considers his forthcoming petition for certiorari.”

Nichols, the district judge in the case, had initially allowed Bannon to remain free while his D.C. Circuit appeal was pending. However, a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit rejected Bannon’s initial appeal of the conviction, and Nichols ordered Bannon to report to prison by July 1.

Bannon then launched his emergency appeal to the same three-judge panel that rejected his initial arguments. In the filing, Bannon said he may soon appeal his conviction to the Supreme Court and adopted some of the same “election interference” rhetoric used by the former president on the campaign trail.