Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon faces trial for contempt of Congress

Steve Bannon is the first member of former President Trump’s inner circle to go on trial for defying a Jan. 6 committee subpoena. Jury selection moved slowly on Monday, with Bannon’s attorney questioning potential jurors about the committee's public hearings. Devlin Barrett, who covers the Justice Department for The Washington Post, joins John Yang to discuss.

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  • Amna Nawaz:

    Jury selection began today in the trial of former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who faces criminal contempt of Congress charges. After refusing to comply with the January 6 Select Committee.

    John Yang has more on the trial and the role it plays in the broader investigation.

  • John Yang:

    Amna, Bannon is the first member of Trump's inner circle to go on trial for defying a committee subpoena.

    Jury selection started slowly today, with Bannon's attorney asking potential jurors how much of the hearings they have watched and whether they have opinions about the committee and its work.

    Devlin Barrett covers the Justice Department for The Washington Post.

    Devlin people may be confused here, because the headline last week was that Bannon said he was willing to testify before the committee. And yet this trial, this contempt trial, is under way. So help people understand what's going on here.

  • Devlin Barrett, The Washington Post:

    So, a lot of what you saw Bannon doing last week and the week before, I think you have to really see in context of him trying to delay his trial.

    And, essentially, he did make that offer to testify to the committee. But it was such a last-minute thing. And he was he was charged. Like, this — the events that led to this trial all came last year. And so what prosecutors and, frankly, the judge as well have said to Bannon's last-minute offers is, it's really too late for that. You refused to cooperate with a committee, allegedly, and now there's going to be a trial over exactly how that happened.

  • John Yang:

    Is this likely — or is a possible outcome of this that he will cooperate with the committee and comply with the subpoena?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    You know, one of the real ironies of charging someone with contempt of Congress is, it's really just a punishment. If anything, it makes it less likely that he will end up testifying to the committee, because there's now a potential conviction or a potential appeal of these legal issues, all of which would make it harder for him to testify, not easier.

    This is really just the stick of punishment now for someone that they decided was not going to deal with them.

  • John Yang:

    He's been arguing that he doesn't have to testify or appear or comply because he's covered by executive privilege.

    Is that something the judge has said he can argue in his defense?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    The judge has left open the idea that he may be able to argue to the jury that he was still willing to cooperate or he had some interest, newfound willingness to cooperate.

    But this executive privilege argument, I think, has been misunderstood or mischaracterized, because the judge also said, we don't even know that the president invoked executive privilege in this case. We are essentially taking that from the defendant's lawyers saying that it was invoked.

    And one of the real core, simple issues in this trial is, did Steve Bannon or did he not get a subpoena from the committee with a certain date by which he was supposed to testify and give documents? And did he give them any of those things? Or did he at least explain why he wasn't going to give them those things or have some sort of back-and-forth with them about it?

    And the prosecution argument is that he didn't. He basically said and did nothing of value. And that is what led to the charge.

  • John Yang:

    And so this is a very narrow set of facts that they're going to be being trying — trying in this case.

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Extremely narrow, so narrow, in fact, that jury selection may take one or two days here. It's possible this is one of the rare cases where the trial itself could be shorter than the jury selection.

    That is how narrow the law and the facts are at issue here. But, again, you can't know for sure until you see what some of the defense decisions are and what kind of case they try to present.

  • John Yang:

    Aside from this issue of whether — of contempt of Congress for allegedly not complying or ignoring the subpoena from the January 6 Committee, is it possible that Steve Bannon could be part of a broader Justice Department investigation into January 6?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    So what we have seen is that the January 6 investigation is incredibly broad and encompasses hundreds of people and a lot of different conduct.

    And, certainly, as one of the public mouthpieces and boosters of January 6, Steve Bannon is in the mix in a lot of that activity. So, separate and apart from this case, which is just about that narrow question of contempt, I do think it's reasonable to think that Steve Bannon is sort of in the Justice Department's feel of vision at as they look at all the events leading up to January 6.

  • John Yang:

    And, Devlin, remind us, what is the possible penalty for these contempt charges that he's facing in trial?

  • Devlin Barrett:

    So, he faces two charges. Each charge carries minimum jail term of a month or a maximum of a year.

    To be honest, the case history, though, no one's gone to jail for this as long as anyone's been alive. So this is, in some ways, making an example of Steve Bannon. A lot of the Steve Bannon trial is not so much about Steve Bannon. It's about sending a message to all the other people who have been subpoenaed by the committee.

  • John Yang:

    Devlin Barrett of The Washington Post, thank you very much.

  • Devlin Barrett:

    Thank you.

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