In court, Bannon appeared in a green barn jacket and black collared shirt before U.S. Magistrate Judge Robin M. Meriweather, who read the charges against him: two counts of contempt of Congress, each punishable by at least 30 days and up to a year in jail if convicted and up to a $100,000 fine. Bannon was not arraigned and did not enter a plea. He will appear Thursday before U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols of Washington.
Prosecutors did not seek detention for a misdemeanor offense, and Bannon was released after swearing to comply with pretrial court supervision, including checking in weekly by phone and notifying the court of any travel outside the D.C. area. Afterward, he spoke outside the court to reporters while protesters held up a sign saying “coup plotter’” behind them.
“I’m telling you right now this is going to be the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden,” Bannon told reporters, referencing the U.S. attorney general, the House speaker and the president. “We’re going to go on the offense on this and stand by.”
Bannon attorney David Schoen, a veteran defense lawyer who represented Donald Trump in his second impeachment trial, also attacked the prosecution. Schoen said that the House panel investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol has prejudged Trump’s role in it, that Bannon was advised by another of his attorneys not to testify before it and that the Justice Department broke with its policy in criminally charging an adviser to a former president who had invoked executive privilege.
“It is outrageous that a criminal charge was brought in this case. It is a misdemeanor, but it’s being treated as if it were a capital case,” Schoen said. “The principles of equal justice under law that Attorney General Garland speaks about is vitally important to all of us, and we all lose as Americans when they’re selectively used and when we violate that principle.”
Pressed on why Bannon did not simply show up before the committee and invoke privilege, as other witnesses have, and whether Bannon received bad legal advice, Schoen asserted that Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel opinions state that a witness in Bannon’s situation need not show up. He asserted that Bannon asked the committee to have a representative of the person invoking executive privilege — referring apparently to Trump — to appear with him, but the panel “refused to allow that.”
The House committee did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Justice Department said that it “typically does not comment on cases beyond what is stated or submitted to the Court and has no comment on this particular matter.”
A federal grand jury indicted Bannon on Friday after he ignored a Sept. 23 subpoena to testify before and provide documents to the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack.
The committee wants to question Bannon about activities at the Willard hotel the night before the riot, when Trump supporters sought to persuade Republican lawmakers to block certification of the 2020 election results. The subpoena noted that Bannon predicted that “hell is going to break loose” on Jan. 6, and the committee’s report recommending that he be found in contempt said the comments indicated he “had some foreknowledge about extreme events that would occur the next day.”
In declining to cooperate, Bannon’s lawyer wrote to the committee in October saying he was contacted by Trump lawyer Justin Clark and instructed not to respond, and would not cooperate pending a court order or a committee agreement with Trump.
Biden’s White House Counsel’s Office, however, has declined to assert executive privilege regarding documents and witnesses related to the Jan. 6 riot. A Trump lawsuit challenging whether a former president’s assertion of executive privilege can countermand a sitting president’s waiver of that privilege is pending before the federal courts, with a hearing set for Nov. 30.
The crosscutting legal battles reflect the committee’s desire to move swiftly, and the outcome could influence how and when other witnesses respond.
The panel has subpoenaed at least 20 Trump aides, including former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows. Meadows did not appear Friday for a scheduled deposition, officials said.
Also subpoenaed was 2020 Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien, senior adviser Jason Miller, former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and former White House personnel director John McEntee.
The indictment is Bannon’s second since last year. In 2020, he was charged alongside three others in an alleged fundraising scam targeting donors to a private campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bannon, who pleaded not guilty in that federal case, was accused of pocketing more than $1 million from his involvement with We Build the Wall while claiming that all the money was being used for construction. He was pardoned by Trump before the case could go to trial, but his co-defendants still face charges.
Bannon left the Trump administration in 2017 but remained in contact with the president throughout his term, including in the days leading up to Jan. 6, records have shown.
Several top Republicans criticized the Bannon indictment on Twitter over the weekend and accused Democrats of “weaponizing” the Justice Department.
“In reality, it is the Left that has been weaponizing the DOJ the ENTIRE TIME,” tweeted Rep. Elise Stefanik (N.Y.), the third-ranking House Republican, “from the false Russia Hoax to the Soviet-style prosecution of political opponents.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) indicated that Republicans would seek payback if their party regained control of the House, tweeting that “Joe Biden has eviscerated Executive Privilege.”
Devlin Barrett and Amy B Wang contributed to this report.