In the run-up to his status hearing in federal court on Tuesday, U.S. prosecutors told a judge they would likely need just a single day to try former White House strategist Steve Bannon for the two contempt of Congress charges he was indicted on last month. Bannon disagreed.
Prosecutors offered the timeframe to U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols in an 8-page filing Monday night ahead of a status hearing on Tuesday.
They argue Bannon’s case should be extremely straightforward: He was asked to provide Congress with records and deposition related to its probe of the attack on the Capitol, and Bannon flatly refused, on multiple occasions and over several weeks, to cooperate.
Prosecutors requested a trial date be set for Apr. 15, roughly five months from the time of Bannon’s indictment. Bannon’s lawyer Evan Corcoran suggested the trial could take up to 10 days and should launch in October, a full year after the indictment. Notably, if Bannon got his way, his trial would begin just as the 2022 midterm elections are rolling. Corcoran called for access to documents from the House of Representatives, the White House, and the Department of Justice as it relates to his case.
Judge Carl Nichols conceded Tuesday that he was “loathe to split the difference” but ordered Bannon’s trial to be set for July 18 with jury selection to start that day.
Prosecutors have said Bannon is trying to slow-walk his case and build up a carnival-like atmosphere for his trial in the media, but Bannon’s defense team has insisted discovery takes “time and effort” in light of the “constitutional issues of first impression involved,” Corcoran wrote.
“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,” Corcoran added.
During the hearing Tuesday, Corcoran again rejected the government’s position that certain documents at trial should be limited in public view. Prosecutors say they want to restrict some of the records in discovery because their contents could unduly influence potential witnesses.
Bannon has already made it clear, assistant U.S. attorney Amanda Vaughn said, that he wants to make the case “hell” for prosecutors and that he intends to make sensitive material available for public discussion or evaluation.
Corcoran rebuffed the claim, saying Bannon does not want his case to play out in the public forum, but there are complex constitutional issues at play that the public should know about.
Ultimately, Nichols agreed to write the protective order but said there would be categorical limitations on what information will be deemed sensitive. It will then be up to counsel to litigate his order and reach an agreement.
One of the categories at conflict between the prosecution and defense is internal communications by the Jan. 6 Committee about Bannon’s case. Vaughn said those documents consist of committee staff summarizing what occurred with respect to Bannon’s subpoena as well as their interviews describing their memory and experience.
Allowing those records to be opened up without restriction was inappropriate and would influence witness testimony, she said.
Bannon’s attorney David Schoen argued internal communications “are the business of the public.” He then went on a minutes-long rant against the prosecution and the Jan. 6 Committee, saying the grand jury was not properly instructed, the select committee lacks legislative power, and that Bannon was selectively prosecuted.
Schoen suggested too that Bannon offered to fight the subpoena in civil court. Schoen claimed that if a civil judge would have ordered to him comply with the committee’s demands, he would have.
He did not say who he made this offer to or when. A committee spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Schoen also blasted committee chair Bennie Thompson, calling into question the Democrat’s intent with Bannon given a lawsuit Thompson filed against Trump in February alleging injury caused by the insurrection.
No “reasonable person living in a democracy” would believe Thompson has integrity in the matter, Schoen argued.
But Thompson dropped the suit in July after becoming chair of the committee, saying in court records that while he strongly believed in the merits of his case, “he wishes to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest between his role on the select committee and his role as plaintiff in this litigation.”
Schoen’s opinions on Thompson aside, Judge Nichols set a trial date for July 18 with jury selection to begin that morning. Nichols also set a deadline of Dec. 16 for the next status report.
It has been 38 years since the Department of Justice has brought contempt charges against a person charged with refusing to comply with congressional subpoena requests. The last person was Rita Lavelle, appointed by former President Ronald Reagan to serve as the Environmental Protection Agency’s assistant administrator.
A whistleblower provided evidence to the feds that Lavelle was misusing money allotted for superfund site clean-up. When she was asked to appear for questioning about her role, she wouldn’t talk. Though she was fired by Reagan and found in contempt before being indicted by a federal grand jury, Lavelle was ultimately acquitted.
Bannon has pleaded not guilty, arguing that his noncompliance was the result of advice given to him by his lawyers. According to Politico, Robert Costello—another Bannon attorney—has said Bannon was “always willing to cooperate if a court ordered him to do so,” but that he was merely deferring to an order from Trump asserting executive privilege over communication between himself and his staff.
Of note, however, is that unlike some of the other people investigators allege were privy to Trump’s plot to overturn the 2020 election, Bannon was not working with Trump in any official capacity. Legal analysts have suggested this could throw cold water on Bannon’s case.
Nevertheless, Bannon’s contempt charge is significant for the Jan. 6 Committee. Securing the votes to refer him for indictment was the first warning shot to probe subjects that a lack of cooperation would lead to contempt.
The strength of that warning will be battle-tested when Jeffrey Clark makes his next move. Clark served as the assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division during Trump’s presidency. Lawmakers say Clark pedaled Trump’s lies about the 2020 election and attempted to oust another DOJ official at Trump’s request so he and the president could pull off a disinformation campaign targeting Georgia election officials and overturn the election.
Clark appeared for deposition once last month, but it was fruitless as he evaded questions, cited executive privilege—though Trump has not asserted it over him—and walked out of the meeting. When the committee dangled a contempt referral, he agreed to be deposed again only so long as he could invoke his Fifth Amendment right. The committee agreed. He was slated to testify behind closed doors last weekend until abruptly, Clark said a medical condition would preclude him from appearing. Jan. 6 Committee chairman Bennie Thompson said Clark provided proof of the condition and agreed to meet with him in mid-December.
A spokesperson for the committee would not disclose the nature of Clark’s condition out of respect to his privacy.
Also potentially courting a contempt referral is Mark Meadows, Trump’s former chief of staff. After initially refusing to cooperate, Meadows changed course and began working with the committee. But on Tuesday, he reversed that decision again when his attorney George Terwilliger notified the panel he would no longer comply.
“We agreed to provide thousands of pages of responsive documents, and Mr. Meadows was willing to appear voluntarily, not under compulsion of the Select Committee’s subpoena to him, for a deposition to answer questions about non-privileged matters. Now actions by the Select Committee have made such an appearance untenable,” Terwilliger wrote.
CNN was first to report the development.
Terwilliger also said the reason for Meadows’ reversal is because they learned that the committee issued “wide-ranging subpoenas for information from a third-party communications provider.”
Instead, Meadows has offered to answer questions in written format.
In response to his decision, committee chairman Bennie Thompson and vicechair Liz Cheney issued a warning:
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