The legal brief submitted by The Post, the New York Times, CNN, NBC News and others creates strange bedfellows. It aligns some of the biggest news organizations with one of their harshest critics.
Bannon, who was chief executive of Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and briefly Trump’s chief White House strategist, often amplified Trump’s criticism and contempt of the news media. At one point during his brief tenure at the White House, he called the media “the opposition party” and said it “should keep its mouth shut.”
He pleaded not guilty last month to two counts of contempt of Congress. The charges stemmed from his refusal to testify and to turn over material subpoenaed by the Democratic-led House committee that is investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol building.
The government contends that public access to the documents would result in publicity that could taint the jury selection process and result in witness intimidation before the trial begins. Prosecutors have argued in a brief that Bannon’s public statements “make clear that defense’s real purpose [is] to abuse criminal discovery to try this case in the media rather than in court.”
It cited Bannon’s comments to reporters after his initial court appearance last month: “I’m telling you right now, this is going to be the misdemeanor from hell, for [Attorney General] Merrick Garland, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden,” he said at the time. “We’re tired of playing defense; we’re going to go on the offense on this.”
Lawyers for the media companies said a protective order on all discovery material was “overbroad” and would limit what the public could learn about the government’s case.
According to the coalition’s brief, a blanket protective order would prohibit Bannon and his attorney from communicating with the news media about their case. The brief characterizes that effect as a violation of the First Amendment.
The coalition’s brief was first reported by the Daily Mail.
It is not clear whether the federal district court judge in the case, Carl J. Nichols, a Trump appointee, will order a hearing on the matter or when he will issue a ruling.
The coalition, whose membership is informal, periodically files briefs on behalf of news organizations that are seeking access to government records or against restraints on newsgathering. Most recently, it filed on behalf of the New York Times, which was fighting a trial court’s temporary restraint on publishing news about the activist group Project Veritas. The court kept its order in place.
The media coalition on the Bannon case also includes ABC News, BuzzFeed News, CBS News, Dow Jones & Co. (publisher of the Wall Street Journal), Gannett, the Los Angeles Times, NPR, ProPublica, E.W. Scripps, Gray Media Group and Tegna. The latter three are among the largest owners of TV stations in the United States.
Alice Crites contributed to this report.