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Justice Department recommends 6 months in prison for Steve Bannon for defying Jan. 6 committee subpoena

Steve Bannon found guilty of contempt
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon found guilty of criminal contempt of Congress 03:07

Washington — The Justice Department on Monday recommended Steve Bannon, the right-wing radio host and ally of former President Donald Trump, be sentenced to six months in prison and fined $200,000 after he was convicted of contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol.

Federal prosecutors said in a sentencing memorandum filed in the U.S. district court in Washington that from the moment Bannon, 68, received the subpoena from the House panel in late September 2021, "he has pursued a bad-faith strategy of defiance and contempt" and still has not turned over any documents to investigators or appeared for testimony. 

"Throughout the pendency of this case, the Defendant has exploited his notoriety — through courthouse press conferences and his War Room podcast — to display to the public the source of his bad-faith refusal to comply with the Committee's subpoena: a total disregard for government processes and the law," Justice Department lawyers wrote.

Bannon, who served as former White House chief strategist to Trump, was charged with two counts of criminal contempt of Congress after the House voted last year to hold him in criminal contempt for defying the subpoena from the select committee. The case went to trial and a jury of 12 Washington, D.C., residents convicted Bannon in July on both counts.

Bannon's attorneys are asking the court for a sentence of probation and to pause the imposition of the sentence pending appeal. In their own sentencing memorandum, they pointed to Bannon's attorney, Robert Costello, as serving as the intermediary with the select committee.

"The facts of this case show that Mr. Bannon's conduct was based on his good-faith reliance on his lawyer's advice," they said.

Bannon's attorneys also told the court that the case involves "larger themes that are important to every American."

"Should a person who has spent a lifetime listening to experts — as a naval officer, investment banker, corporate executive, and presidential advisor — be jailed for relying on the advice of his lawyers? Should a person be jailed where the prosecutor declined to prosecute others who were similarly situated — with the only difference being that this person uses their voice to express strongly held political views?" they wrote. "If the answer to any of these questions is no, then a sentence of probation is warranted."

Bannon is set to be sentenced Friday, the capstone of a chaotic legal battle that included efforts by Bannon to postpone the proceedings and, days before the start of his trial, express a newfound willingness to testify before the House committee. 

In addition to his legal troubles in Washington, Bannon was indicted in New York last month on state money laundering and conspiracy charges stemming from his part in a fundraising campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. He pleaded not guilty.

Steve Bannon charged with money laundering, conspiracy, fraud in New York 04:58

In their 24-page filing, federal prosecutors plotted Bannon's defiance of the select committee's demands for information in 17 areas related to the Jan. 6 attack, which included his communications with Trump, efforts to persuade Americans of the false claim that the 2020 presidential election was stolen, and communication with far-right extremist groups regarding the election and the Capitol riot.

Bannon had argued he could not comply with the committee's subpoena because Trump intended to assert executive privilege, though the committee rejected his claims and moved to schedule his deposition. After Bannon failed to appear before House investigators, defying the subpoena, the committee and later the full House voted to hold him in criminal contempt of Congress.

A federal grand jury indicted Bannon in November on the two counts stemming from his refusal to comply with the subpoena, though his lawyers repeatedly attempted to delay his trial, albeit unsuccessfully. Then, just before the proceedings were set to begin, Bannon's lawyer sent the House select committee a letter claiming Trump had waived executive privilege, allowing Bannon to comply with the subpoena.

A lawyer for Bannon, Evan Corcoran, also told the committee that he would cooperate only if the Justice Department agreed to dismiss his criminal case, prosecutors told the court, an offer they called a "stunt" and an effort to "extract a quid pro quo" with the panel to persuade the Justice Department to drop the charges against him.

Justice Department lawyers told the court in their sentencing memorandum that throughout the case, Bannon has used his public platforms to spout "hyperbolic and sometimes violent rhetoric to disparage the Committee's investigation, personally attack the committee's members, and ridicule the criminal justice system."

Bannon's statements, they wrote, "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."

The minimum sentence of one month in prison, Justice Department lawyers said, is "insufficient to account for, punish, and deter his criminal offenses."

"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 endure," they said. "By flouting the select committee's subpoena and its authority, the defendant exacerbated that assault. To this day, he continues to unlawfully withhold documents and testimony that stand to help the committee's authorized investigation to get to the bottom of what led to January 6 and ascertain what steps must be taken to ensure that it never happens again. That cannot be tolerated."

Bannon is one of four former White House aides and allies of Trump to be referred by the full House for possible criminal prosecution for refusing to comply with subpoenas from the select committee. Peter Navarro, a top trade adviser to Trump, was indicted by a federal grand jury in June on two counts of contempt of Congress.

The Justice Department, however, declined to charge former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and deputy chief of staff Dan Scavino.

Rob Legare contributed to this report

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