Steve Bannon is the first Trump associate to be convicted for Jan. 6 actions
SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A Washington, D.C., jury convicted Steve Bannon on criminal contempt charges yesterday. The House January 6th committee asked Bannon for documents and testimony last year. He refused. He is not the first prominent Trump associate to be charged and convicted of crimes. He is the first one to be convicted of charges related to January 6th. NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson's been on the case and joins us. Carrie, thanks so much for being with us.
CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Happy to do it.
SIMON: Bannon stopped working at the White House in 2017. What made investigators interested in him?
JOHNSON: A lot of things. Steve Bannon kept in contact with Donald Trump even after he left the White House five years ago. Bannon appeared at the Willard Hotel along with other Trump allies the day before the siege on the U.S. Capitol. And on his podcast on January 5, 2021, Bannon said, all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. The House select committee wanted to know a lot more about all of that, but Bannon refused to talk.
SIMON: The jury verdict came in very quickly. I mean, it included lunch, and it was just a few hours.
JOHNSON: Really, it did. Prosecutors say this was a simple case. Look at the words in black and white on the subpoena Congress issued to Steve Bannon. He didn't do anything in response to their demands for documents or testimony except float claims about executive privilege, which wouldn't have applied to most of what Congress wanted anyway.
Now, his defense argued his refusal to turn over materials might have just been a mistake or a misunderstanding about the deadlines. But that claim didn't work on this jury especially since prosecutors showed them social media posts of Bannon vowing to defy the subpoena and, instead, to, quote, "stand with Trump and the Constitution."
SIMON: It is pretty rare for somebody to be prosecuted for contempt of Congress. Why did the government decide to take this step?
JOHNSON: The Justice Department says it's all about getting to the bottom of what happened on January 6th and helping Congress pass new laws to make sure it never happens again. The DOJ says Bannon thumbed his nose at the Congress and thought the laws didn't apply to him. And prosecutors said, we can't have a civil society if people behave that way and there are no consequences. Bannon tried to argue the January 6th committee on Capitol Hill had political motivations, but the jury didn't agree.
SIMON: Carrie, what are the potential consequences for Steve Bannon now?
JOHNSON: Bannon's going to be sentenced on October 21st. The penalty for contempt of Congress is between 30 days in jail and a year in jail. But there aren't a lot of cases to compare to this one, so it's not clear how tough the judge might be at sentencing time. Bannon did not take the witness stand in his own defense. If he had, the judge might have been a lot more harsh with him. At least, that's what three legal experts told me this week.
SIMON: Carrie, you caught up with Steve Bannon and his lawyers just after the verdict. What did they have to say?
JOHNSON: Well, Steve Bannon had some tough words for the lawmakers who sent him a subpoena. Here's what he told reporters outside the courthouse.
STEVE BANNON: I want to thank the jury for the - what - the effort they did, the judge, particularly the court administration here, everybody. I only have one disappointment, and that is the gutless members of that show-trial committee. The J-6 committee didn't have the guts to come down here and testify in open court. Thank you very much.
JOHNSON: So Bannon wanted to hear from members of that committee during his trial, but the judge quashed that idea. Prosecutors called two staff members to witness instead, and now Bannon is vowing to appeal. His lawyer says there are an astonishing number of issues on appeal, including that Bannon was following advice from his lawyers who told him he didn't need to comply, and also some issues related to executive privilege.
SIMON: NPR national justice correspondent Carrie Johnson. Carrie, thanks so much.
JOHNSON: Happy to do it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.