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Steve Bannon sentenced to 4 months in prison for contempt of Congress in Jan. 6 probe

The Trump strategist displayed ‘defiance and contempt’ rather than cooperate, prosecutors said, after the House committee asked about Bannon’s advance knowledge of events

Stephen K. Bannon is seen on the screen during a July hearing of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
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Stephen K. Bannon, a right-wing podcaster and longtime adviser to former president Donald Trump, was sentenced Friday to four months in prison and a $6,500 fine for refusing to cooperate with a congressional investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Bannon is set to become the first person incarcerated for defying a congressional subpoena in more than half a century under a statute that is rarely prosecuted. The judge said he would stay imposition of the penalty pending Bannon’s expected appeal.

Bannon’s case probably won’t be the final clash involving the work of the House select committee investigating the Capitol riot and preceding events, as lawmakers Friday issued a subpoena to Trump himself.

“Flouting congressional subpoenas betrays a lack of respect for the legislative branch, which exercises the will of the people of the United States,” U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols said. Bannon “has expressed no remorse” and “has not taken responsibility for his refusal to comply with his subpoena.”

House committee subpoenas Trump, seeking documents and testimony by mid-November

Bannon was convicted at trial in July on two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to respond to the Jan. 6 committee’s request for testimony and documents. Both misdemeanors are punishable by at least 30 days and up to one year in jail. But Bannon has said he plans to appeal his conviction because Nichols ruled that Bannon could not argue at trial that he relied on his lawyer’s advice or believed his cooperation was barred by Trump’s claim of executive privilege.

Prosecutors asked for six months in jail and the maximum $200,000 fine, saying in a court filing that Bannon showed “a total disregard for government processes and the law” in ignoring the congressional subpoena, while smearing the House investigation and the justice system with “rhetoric that risks inspiring violence.” Bannon asked for probation, saying a mandatory-minimum jail sentence would be unlawful because his intent was not criminal or “willful.”

Bannon declined to speak in court Friday, saying only, “My lawyers have spoken for me, your honor.”

But in a raucous sidewalk appearance outside afterward, the bombastic Bannon claimed he would be vindicated by American voters next month if Republicans, as predicted, take control of the House of Representatives, and he said that Attorney General Merrick Garland would be impeached and “removed from office.”

Mar-a-Lago classified papers held U.S. secrets about Iran and China

“Today was my judgment day by the judge,” Bannon said as demonstrators called him a traitor. But, he added, “on November 8, the American people will weigh judgment, and we will prove the Biden administration ends [that] evening.”

Bannon is one of a half-dozen Trump associates to be convicted of federal crimes including fraud, making false statements and foreign influence-peddling, although Trump pardoned most of those who remained loyal before leaving office. More are now in legal jeopardy in investigations of attempts to subvert the 2020 election results as well as the storage of classified information at Trump’s Florida residence. M. Evan Corcoran, who is representing Bannon, has been counseled by colleagues to hire a criminal defense lawyer because he told the Justice Department that Trump had handed over all classified information at Mar-a-Lago before an FBI raid found more.

The committee had wanted to ask Bannon about his role in efforts to pressure Vice President Mike Pence and Republican lawmakers into refusing to affirm the 2020 election results, culminating in the mob assault on the Capitol. Lawmakers in their subpoena noted that Bannon was involved in Trump supporters’ strategy meetings the day before the riot and that he predicted “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”

At its last public hearing, earlier this month, the committee played audio of Bannon saying Trump would declare victory in the election no matter what the outcome. “That doesn’t mean he’s a winner. He’s just going to say he’s a winner,” Bannon told associates from China a few days before the election. “He’s going to sit right there and say they stole it. … That’s our strategy.”

In sentencing Bannon, Nichols — a 2019 Trump appointee — reiterated that the mob attack on Congress as it met to confirm the 2020 election results was “undeniably serious,” with many rioters planning to engage in violence.

“The Jan. 6 committee thus has every reason to investigate what happened that day, including who may have been involved in planning or instigating what happened and thus what, if anything, can be done to prevent a similar horrific act from occurring in the future.”

Executive privilege shields close advisers to the president from subpoenas related to their White House work. But Bannon left the administration in mid-2017 and was acting as a private citizen on Jan. 6, 2021. Prosecutors at trial and in their sentencing papers provided communications showing that Justin Clark, a lawyer for the former president, never told Bannon’s legal team that he should refuse to appear or that Trump was invoking executive privilege over any specific document.

At trial, Bannon was allowed to argue only that he thought deadlines to respond to the committee were just starting points for negotiation.

On Oct. 13, the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack played audio of Stephen Bannon outlining Trump's election strategy. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

On Friday, prosecutors said that Bannon sought at every turn to make his prosecution about “retribution and politics” rather than his own conduct and that they could think of no more egregious case of contempt.

Bannon, a “man of means and a public figure,” chose to hide “behind a fabricated claim of executive privilege and advice of counsel to thumb his nose at Congress,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney J.P. Cooney, chief of the fraud and public corruption unit of the U.S. attorney’s office for Washington, D.C.

“If the defendant intended to faithfully invoke executive privilege, to faithfully rely on advice of counsel … he would have shown up. But this defendant never lifted a finger to search for any document, produce a privilege log, or appear before the committee to invoke executive privilege as commanded,” Cooney said.

Bannon’s defense fired back, saying that he should not be punished for following legal advice to preserve the confidentiality of communications with the president, even though he was no longer a White House aide.

“No American should make any apology for the way Mr. Bannon proceeded in this case,” defense attorney David Schoen said. “God forbid we should ever want to deter an American citizen for honoring the values Mr. Bannon honored here.”

Schoen repeated claims that Bannon was the victim of a partisan vendetta by an illegitimate congressional committee.

In an aside, Schoen also lashed out at Clark, calling him a “thug” and one of four legal “stooges” then working for Trump. Both Clark and Schoen worked for the former president during his second impeachment trial.

Another former Trump confidant, trade adviser Peter K. Navarro, is headed to trial on the same charges Bannon was convicted of; the House committee said it wanted him to talk about working with “Bannon and others to … change the outcome of the November 2020 presidential election.” On Bannon’s podcast late last year, Navarro credited the host as “the hero on January 6,” who had the “strategy to go up to Capitol Hill.” As in Bannon’s case, a federal judge found that Trump never invoked executive privilege to protect Navarro from cooperating with the committee investigation.

Bannon also faces trial in New York state court on allegations that he orchestrated a scheme to steal millions from donors who believed they were helping build a wall along the U.S. border with Mexico. Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty, was indicted on nearly identical federal charges in 2020 but pardoned by Trump.

The Jan. 6 insurrection

The report: The Jan. 6 committee released its final report, marking the culmination of an 18-month investigation into the violent insurrection. Read The Post’s analysis about the committee’s new findings and conclusions.

The final hearing: The House committee investigating the attack on the U.S. Capitol held its final public meeting where members referred four criminal charges against former president Donald Trump and others to the Justice Department. Here’s what the criminal referrals mean.

The riot: On Jan. 6, 2021, a pro-Trump mob stormed the U.S. Capitol in an attempt to stop the certification of the 2020 election results. Five people died on that day or in the immediate aftermath, and 140 police officers were assaulted.

Inside the siege: During the rampage, rioters came perilously close to penetrating the inner sanctums of the building while lawmakers were still there, including former vice president Mike Pence. The Washington Post examined text messages, photos and videos to create a video timeline of what happened on Jan. 6. Here’s what we know about what Trump did on Jan. 6.