WASHINGTON >> Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, was sentenced today to four months behind bars after defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 uprising at the US Capitol.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols allowed Bannon to remain free pending appeal, a potentially lengthy process, and also imposed a $6,500 fine as part of the sentence. Bannon was found guilty in July of two counts of contempt of Congress: one for refusing to sit for a deposition and the other for refusing to provide documents.
Nichols handed down the sentence after saying the law was clear that contempt of Congress carries a mandatory minimum sentence of at least one month behind bars. Bannon’s lawyers had argued that the judge could have sentenced him to probation instead. Prosecutors had asked that Bannon be sent to prison for six months.
“In my view, Mr. Bannon has not taken responsibility for his actions,” Nichols said before imposing the sentence. “Others must be deterred from committing similar crimes.”
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The House panel had requested Bannon’s testimony about his involvement in Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 presidential election. Bannon has not yet testified or provided any documents to the committee.
Prosecutors argued Bannon, 68, deserved the longer sentence because he pursued a ‘bad faith strategy’ and his public statements disparaging the committee itself made it clear he wanted to undermine their efforts to go deep in the violent attack and keep something like this from happening again.
“He chose to hide behind fabricated claims of executive privilege and counsel to thumb his nose at Congress,” prosecutor JP Cooney said.
“Your Honor, the defendant is not above the law and that is exactly what makes this case important,” Cooney said. “It must be clear to the public, to citizens, that no one is above the law.”
The defense, meanwhile, said he was not acting in bad faith, but was trying to avoid breaching objections to executive privilege Trump raised when Bannon first received a subpoena. to appear last year. The former presidential adviser said he wanted to have a Trump attorney in the room, but the committee wouldn’t allow it.
Imposing the sentence, the judge noted that Bannon did have an attorney, and while his advice may have been “too aggressive,” he appeared to be following it.
“Mr. Bannon did not completely ignore the fact that he received the subpoena and he did not fail to engage with the committee at all,” Nichols said.
Many other former White House aides testified with only their own attorneys. Bannon had been fired from the White House in 2017 and was a private citizen when he consulted with the then president before the riot.
Before the judge handed down sentencing, Bannon’s attorney David Schoen gave an impassioned argument against the committee and said Bannon simply did what his attorney told him to do under executive privilege objections. of Trump.
“Quite frankly, Mr. Bannon shouldn’t apologize. No American should apologize for the way Mr. Bannon handled this matter,” he said.
Schoen also defended Bannon’s public remarks about the committee: “Speaking the truth about this committee or speaking your mind about this committee is not only acceptable in this country, it’s an obligation if the ‘it’s believed to be true,’ Schoen said.
As he appeared in court today, Bannon told reporters, “This illegitimate regime, their judgment day is November 8, when the Biden administration ends.” Bannon did not speak during the hearing, saying only, “My attorneys spoke for me, your honor.”
Leaving the courthouse after sentencing, Bannon said he believed Attorney General Merrick Garland would be removed.
When President Joe Biden, meanwhile, was asked about the sentence as he left the White House, he said, “I never have a reaction to Steve Bannon.”
Prosecutors had asked for the maximum fine, saying Bannon refused to answer routine questions about his income and insisted he could pay whatever the judge imposed. The judge, however, found the short answers an effort to spare court staff a lengthy effort to trace Bannon’s finances and imposed a smaller fine.
Bannon also argued that he offered to testify after Trump waived executive privilege. But that was after the contempt charges were filed, and prosecutors said he would only agree to give the deposition if the case was dropped.
Bannon also faces separate charges of money laundering, fraud and conspiracy in New York related to the “We Build the Wall” campaign. Bannon pleaded not guilty.
Prosecutors say Bannon falsely promised donors that all the money would go towards building a wall on the US-Mexico border, but was instead involved in transferring hundreds of thousands of dollars to third-party entities and the used to channel payments to two other people involved in the scheme.
Associated Press reporter Nathan Ellgren contributed to this report.