- House Democrats want to argue against Steve Bannon’s attempt to escape contempt of Congress charges.
- The request to intervene marked an unusual move that could come with legal complications.
- Bannon is set to stand trial in July on charges he unlawfully defied the House January 6 committee.
Steve Bannon has made “deeply flawed” arguments for escaping prosecution on contempt of Congress charges and should stand trial as scheduled in July, House lawyers said, in an unusual court brief backing up the Justice Department’s case against the onetime Trump advisor.
In a 26-page brief, released Tuesday by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House lawyers responded to Bannon’s recent push to have a federal judge toss the contempt charges, which stem from his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the committee investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol.
“No one is above the law. As the House’s amicus brief makes crystal clear, the subpoena of Steve Bannon issued by the Select Committee is legally valid, urgently needed, and must be enforced,” Pelosi said in a prepared statement. “Bannon is a key witness to the January 6th Insurrection, who holds information central to the House’s investigative and legislative efforts to defend American Democracy.”
A grand jury indicted Bannon in November on contempt of Congress charges after the House referred him to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. Ahead of his July trial, Bannon has pushed for a federal judge to throw out the charges, arguing that the subpoena he received from the House committee was unlawful.
Bannon said the makeup of the committee rendered the subpoena invalid and asserted that he was “targeted to send a message to other potential deponents.”
In court papers, House lawyers noted that three judges have previously rejected similar arguments attacking the validity of the committee’s subpoenas. Describing Bannon as “important” to the January 6 investigation, House lawyers also rebutted his claims that the committee lacked a legitimate purpose for subpoenaing him.
Bannon “was a central player in the lead-up to the January 6th attack on the Capitol,” House lawyers said. “He played a pivotal role in constructing and participating in the ‘stop the steal’ public relations effort that motivated the attack, and he planned certain other activities in advance of January 6th that are of interest to the Select Committee.”
House lawyers highlighted Bannon’s public statements in the buildup to January 6, in which he predicted and encouraged “unprecedented and violent events on January 6th.” A day before a pro-Trump mob attacked the Capitol, Bannon said the country was facing a “constitutional crisis” and “that crisis is about to go up about five orders of magnitude tomorrow.”
On his podcast, Bannon predicted that “[a]ll hell is going to break loose tomorrow” and stated, “[s]o many people said, ‘Man, if I was in a revolution, I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history.”
The House brief has not yet appeared on the public docket in Bannon’s case, and it’s unclear why. The brief was intended to bolster the case as the Justice Department seeks to stave off Bannon’s last-ditch attempt to have a federal judge throw out the criminal contempt charges.
In recent court filings, Bannon’s lawyers have also argued that he could not comply with the subpoena because Trump invoked executive privilege in connection with the House investigation into January 6. Bannon’s defense team argued that he received a “direct order” from Trump “requiring that he fully honor the invocation of executive privilege.”
“Under the circumstances presented here, it would be fundamentally unfair and a clear due process violation to permit this prosecution to go forward,” his defense team added. “It must be dismissed.”
Legal experts have cast doubt on Bannon’s ability to rely on any executive privilege claims, noting in part that he was years removed from his role in the Trump administration by the time the Capitol was besieged by a mob of the former president’s supporters.
Federal prosecutors underscored that point in a brief opposing Bannon’s bid to escape criminal prosecution. Bannon’s argument for dismissing the indictment, the Justice Department argued, “ignores the straightforward facts of this case: that the Defendant was subpoenaed for information related to his activities as a private party in 2020-21, and not in his capacity as a White House advisor in 2017.”
The case against Bannon was randomly assigned in November to Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee who was confirmed in 2019 to the federal trial court in Washington, DC. Nichols dealt Bannon a setback in April — albeit reluctantly — when he ruled that the former Trump advisor could not argue at trial that he was merely following his lawyer’s advice in snubbing the House committee investigating January 6.
Bannon’s indictment came within weeks of the House referring the former Trump advisor to the Justice Department for criminal prosecution. That turnaround has stood in stark contrast to the referrals of other Trump allies, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, over their refusal to cooperate with the House panel investigating the insurrection.
Justice Department leaders have refused to comment on the consideration of those referrals, and the lack of action against Meadows has rankled the January 6 committee. At a hearing in late March — three months after voting to hold Meadows in contempt — committee members vented frustration with the Justice Department’s silence.
“Attorney General Garland, do your job so we can do ours,” said Rep. Elaine Luria, one of the seven Democrats on the nine-member panel.