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Trump ally Steve Bannon ordered to report to prison July 1 in contempt of Congress case

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

Washington — A federal judge in Washington, D.C. ordered Trump ally Steve Bannon to report to prison by July 1, granting the Justice Department's request that Bannon serve out his four-month prison sentence while he pursues an appeal of his conviction. 

Issuing his ruling from the bench on Thursday, Judge Carl Nichols revoked Bannon's bail and said he could "no longer conclude that [Bannon's] appeal raises substantial question of law," after a three-judge appeals court panel upheld the jury's conviction of Bannon on contempt of Congress charges. 

The decision and schedule gives Bannon's lawyers nearly a month to appeal the revocation of his bail to higher courts. The defense team is also planning on appealing his conviction to the entire D.C. Cirucuit Court of Appeals. 

Bannon's legal team fought the Justice Department's request to move forward with the prison sentence and argued its pursuit of further legal review — potentially all the way to the Supreme Court — warranted further delay in his serving his prison sentence to receive input from other courts.

A jury found Bannon guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress in 2022 after he refused to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee that investigated the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol attack. The congressional investigators were interested in Bannon's conduct in over a dozen key areas, including his communications with former President Donald Trump as he resisted the results of the 2020 presidential election. 

At the time, Bannon contended he did not comply because of executive privilege concerns raised by Trump and said that his former attorney had advised him not to respond to the subpoena because of the potential privilege. 

Before the trial, Nichols — a Trump appointee — ordered Bannon not to tell the jury about the advice of his counsel because of binding precedent that set a legal definition of willful default on a subpoena. After his conviction, the judge sentenced Bannon to four months in prison but held off on actually imposing the ruling, concluding it was "likely" the conviction would be overturned. 

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Steve Bannon, former advisor to President Donald Trump, appears in Manhattan Supreme Court to set his trial date on May 25, 2023 in New York City.  Curtis Means / Getty Images

Bannon's defense subsequently appealed the conviction.

Last month, an appeals court disagreed with his arguments and ruled Bannon's "'advice of counsel' defense is no defense at all." The three-judge panel in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the jury's conviction and wrote the defense he sought was "unavailable under this statute."

"Nothing in the authorities Bannon relies upon calls into question this court's longstanding interpretation of 'willfully' … as requiring a deliberate, intentional failure to respond to a subpoena," the judges wrote last month in their opinion. 

Still, the panel ordered its ruling would not go into effect until seven days after Bannon pursued a further appeal, leaving an opportunity for another court to again push off the prison sentence. 

But the Justice Department took the case back to Nichols' court and asked the judge to lift the stay on Bannon's four-month prison sentence. Prosecutors argued there was no longer a "substantial question of law" because the conviction was upheld. 

Speaking in court Thursday, prosecutor Jonathan Crabb argued the three-judge panel offered a "full-throated" endorsement of the legal precedent that was applied during Bannon's jury trial and as a result, he said there was "no longer a substantial question before the court." 

The parties agreed that Nichols had the authority to decide the matter of Bannon's bail, even though the appeals court had yet to return the mandate to Nichols' courtroom, but they agreed on little else. 

"The harm caused truly would be irreparable and unjust if the judgment, already fully executed, is then reversed on further review," wrote attorney David Schoen in court papers. "There is no basis for considering the removal of the stay of the sentence pending appeal until the appeals process has fully run its course," 

Schoen argued Thursday that if Bannon were to be sent to prison, he would serve his time before any further review of the conviction was completed.

"This case raises serious constitutional issues," he argued, that should be decided by the entire D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court. 

Nichols, however, disagreed, and said the reasoning behind his initial decision to delay Bannon's prison sentence no longer applied because the appeals court had ruled. He ordered Bannon to self-surrender by July 1, a decision that gave rise to audible disappointment from his legal team in the courtroom. 

Bannon is not the only Trump White House official convicted for defying a subpoena from the House Jan. 6 committee. Former trade advisor Peter Navarro is currently serving a four-month prison sentence after a jury in Washington, D.C. found him guilty of contempt. 

Like Bannon, Navarro is appealing his conviction, but the judge overseeing his case opted not to delay the imposition of the prison term, a decision that has been upheld by higher courts. 

Bannon was not in the White House during the final months of the Trump administration that were of interest to the Jan. 6 committee, but he has continued to exert influence within the former president's political base. Following Trump's conviction on New York State charges last week, Bannon had advocated for retribution should Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, retake the White House. 

Speaking outside of court on Thursday, Bannon' said "this is about shutting down the MAGA movement, shutting down grassroots conservatives, shutting down President Trump." 

"There is not a prison built or a jail built that will ever shut me up," he said, reiterating that they plan to take his case to the Supreme Court for review. 

Jaala Browl, Priscilla Saldana, and Lexi Jordan contributed to this report. 

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