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Steve Bannon seeks to stay out of prison while he appeals contempt of Congress conviction

Steven Bannon ordered to report to prison in July
Steven Bannon ordered to report to prison on July 1 00:25

Washington — Steve Bannon, a conservative commentator and ally to former President Donald Trump, has asked a federal appeals court to allow him to remain out of prison while he continues to challenge his conviction on two counts of contempt of Congress.

Bannon was ordered last week to report to prison by July 1 to begin serving a four-month sentence. But in a request for emergency relief to the U.S. court of appeals in Washington, the one-time White House chief strategist argued that he should be allowed to remain free as he mounts further appeals, including to the Supreme Court.

Bannon's conviction in 2022 stemmed from his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the then-House select committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. House investigators sought documents and testimony from Bannon about numerous issues, including his communications with Trump about efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Bannon argued at the time that he couldn't respond to the subpoena because of potential claims of executive privilege raised by Trump and said a lawyer for the former president indicated Trump had invoked executive privilege. Bannon was fired from his post as White House chief strategist in 2017 and was a private citizen at the time of the efforts to subvert the transfer of presidential power after the 2020 election.

Before the start of his trial, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, who presided over the proceedings, barred Bannon from presenting evidence or arguing he relied on advice of his one-time attorney when he refused to comply with the subpoena. A jury later found Bannon guilty on the two counts of contempt of Congress and Nichols sentenced him to four months in prison. The judge allowed Bannon to remain free while he pursued an appeal of his conviction.

A three-judge panel of judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit upheld Bannon's conviction last month, finding in part that the advice-of-counsel defense Bannon sought to raise "is no defense at all."

The judges said that Bannon didn't dispute that he deliberately refused to comply with the House select committee's subpoena, "in that he knew what the subpoena required and intentionally did not respond; his nonresponse, in other words, was no accident." 

The D.C. Circuit panel also rejected Bannon's claims that the subpoena was invalid.

In light of the panel's decision, Nichols revoked Bannon's bail and ordered him to surrender by July 1 to begin serving his prison sentence. The conservative commentator plans to ask the full slate of judges on the D.C. Circuit to rehear his case and could seek further relief from the Supreme Court.

In his request to remain free while he continues the appeals process, Bannon's lawyers wrote there are "good reasons to believe" the Supreme Court would be interested in reviewing his conviction.

"Further, the issue is important because under this court's caselaw, future disagreements about subpoena compliance will be met not with negotiation — but with indictments, especially when the White House changes political parties," they told the D.C. Circuit in their emergency motion for release. 

Bannon's legal team said that if their client is denied release, he will serve his prison sentence before the Supreme Court has a chance to consider a request to take up his appeal. The court's term is set to end by the end of June or early July, and its next term begins Oct. 7.

"There is also no denying the political realities here," Bannon's lawyers wrote, noting that he is a political commentator and campaign strategist who was prosecuted by the Biden administration. "The government seeks to imprison Mr. Bannon for the four-month period leading up to the November election, when millions of Americans look to him for information on important campaign issues. This would also effectively bar Mr. Bannon from serving as a meaningful advisor in the ongoing national campaign."

Bannon's lawyers asked the D.C. Circuit to issue a ruling on his request to remain out of prison by June 18, which would allow them time to seek additional emergency relief from the Supreme Court if needed.

Bannon is the second former official from the Trump White House who was found guilty by a jury for contempt of Congress after defying a subpoena from the House select committee. Peter Navarro, who served as a top trade adviser to Trump, is serving a four-month prison sentence at a correctional facility in Miami after he was convicted on two counts of criminal contempt last year.

Navarro is also appealing his conviction and asked the Supreme Court to allow him to remain free during the additional proceedings. But his bid was rejected first by Chief Justice John Roberts and then by the full court.

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