Trump Ally Steve Bannon Can Be Prosecuted in a Single Day, DOJ Says

Trump Ally Steve Bannon Can Be Prosecuted in a Single Day, DOJ Says
  • Federal prosecutors see the Steve Bannon case as “very straightforward” and want a trial date soon.
  • DOJ thinks it will only take a day of testimony to present the contempt of Congress case.
  • Bannon’s defense team wants a more drawn-out pace for the criminal proceedings.

Federal prosecutors expect to need just one day to make their case against former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, the Justice Department said Monday in a court filing that pushed for the Trump ally to stand trial soon on criminal contempt of Congress charges.

A federal grand jury returned an indictment last month against Bannon over his defiance of a congressional subpoena demanding that he testify and turn over documents as part of the House investigation into the January 6 attack on the Capitol. At an early court hearing, prosecutor Amanda Vaughn described the case as “very straightforward” as Bannon’s defense team resisted the Justice Department’s push to set a trial date.

In Monday’s filing, prosecutors predicted that their “case-in-chief will consist of one day of testimony.” Bannon’s defense lawyers said their “best estimate” was that the trial would last about 10 days.

Prosecutors also asked for the trial to begin no later than April 15. Bannon’s defense team suggested a date six months later, October 17, asserting that the “average life of a criminal case” in the District of Columbia’s federal trial court is about one year.

“In our view, this is not the average criminal case on the docket – because it will take more time to obtain discovery, and more time to fully brief the issues,” Bannon’s defense lawyers said.

The court filing further illuminated the divide between Bannon’s defense and prosecutors over the pace of the proceedings, in a prosecution that House lawmakers hope will deter would-be recalcitrant witnesses from snubbing the select committee investigating the Capitol attack and buildup to January 6. The brief came a day before a second hearing before Judge Carl Nichols, a 2019 appointee to the federal trial court in Washington, DC, who was randomly assigned Bannon’s case.

The Justice Department had gone decades without bringing a contempt of Congress prosecution. But the department ended that years-long drought with Bannon, who asserted executive privilege even though he hadn’t served in the Trump administration since 2017.

In announcing Bannon’s indictment, Attorney General Merrick Garland stressed that it was not motivated by politics, saying the Justice Department “adheres to the rule of law, follows the facts and the law and pursues equal justice under the law.”

Last week, the nine-member committee voted unanimously to recommend criminal contempt charges against Jeffrey Clark, a former top Trump appointee at the Justice Department, over his refusal to cooperate with the investigation. The House committee moved forward with the vote a day after Clark came back and communicated, through his lawyer, that he would be invoking his 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Clark’s 11th-hour move has staved off, at least for now, a full House vote to hold him in contempt and refer him to the Justice Department for potential prosecution. 

“As with Mr. Bannon, the Select Committee has no desire to be placed in this situation but Mr. Clark has left us no other choice,” said Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the January 6 committee, at a meeting last week. “He chose this path. He knew what consequences he might face if he did so.”

Clark was initially scheduled to appear before the committee on Saturday to formally assert his 5th Amendment claim. But the hearing was postponed to December 16 after Clark’s attorney told lawmakers his client had a medical condition precluding his appearance.

Trump, for his part, has repeatedly urged his associates not to comply with the select committee’s investigation. He also filed a lawsuit to prevent the National Archives from turning records over to the House committee.

A federal judge rejected Trump’s bid to block the Biden administration from handing over the records. Trump’s lawyers challenged the ruling to the US Court of Appeals for the DC, where a three-judge panel seemed equally skeptical of his claim that he can invoke executive privilege post-presidency and overrule the decision of the incumbent.