Federal Appeals Court Upholds Bannon’s Contempt Conviction

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A federal appeals court on Friday upheld the contempt conviction of Stephen K. Bannon, a longtime adviser to former President Donald J. Trump, for having defied a subpoena from the Jan. 6 House select committee, a ruling that could lead to Mr. Bannon serving a four-month term in prison.

The decision by the court means that Mr. Bannon could soon become the second former Trump aide to be jailed for ignoring a subpoena from the committee. The House panel sought his testimony as part of its wide-ranging investigation into Mr. Trump’s efforts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election, and its explosive hearings two years ago previewed much of the evidence used against Mr. Trump in a federal indictment filed last summer accusing him of plotting to overturn his defeat.

In March, Peter Navarro, who once worked as a trade adviser to Mr. Trump, reported to federal prison in Miami to begin serving his own four-month prison stint after a jury found him guilty of contempt of Congress for ignoring one of the committee’s subpoenas.

The judge who oversaw Mr. Bannon’s trial had allowed him to remain at home during the appeal of his conviction and is now in a position to force him to surrender.

Mr. Bannon had fought his contempt conviction as forcefully as he fought the initial charges during his brief trial in Federal District Court in Washington in July 2022. That proceeding was a spectacle, with the defendant delivering heated speeches outside the courthouse and promising in the days before it began to go “medieval” on the prosecutors who had brought the case against him.

One of the arguments that Mr. Bannon raised to the appeals court was that his lawyers had advised him to ignore the committee’s subpoena — a tactic known as an advice of counsel defense. Mr. Bannon also claimed that Mr. Trump himself had ordered him to defy demands from the committee.

But in a 20-page ruling, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit swept those arguments aside, upholding both the jury’s guilty verdict and the sentence imposed on Mr. Bannon by Judge Carl J. Nichols.

The panel wrote that even if Mr. Bannon’s lawyers had told him not to comply with the committee, the advice could not excuse him for having willfully and intentionally ignored the subpoena.

“This exact ‘advice of counsel’ defense is no defense at all,” the judges wrote.

The panel also rejected, as a matter of fact, Mr. Bannon’s claim that Mr. Trump had authorized him to defy the committee. It cited a letter written by one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers to Mr. Bannon’s lawyers shortly after the subpoena was originally issued, noting that the correspondence “nowhere suggested that Bannon should categorically refuse to respond” to the committee.

David Schoen, a lawyer who handled Mr. Bannon’s appeal, said his client would now ask the full appeals court to reconsider the panel’s ruling.

“It is not appropriate to prosecute criminally,” Mr. Schoen said, “when a lay person” — like Mr. Bannon — “gets a congressional subpoena, executive privilege is invoked and his lawyer tells him the law does not permit him to respond.”

In an order issued a few weeks after he sentenced Mr. Bannon, Judge Nichols put off enforcing the prison term he had just imposed until after the appeals court made its own ruling. Judge Nichols decided that Mr. Bannon, who now runs the right-wing podcast “War Room,” was not likely to flee or pose a danger to the community, adding that his appeal raised “a substantial question of law.”

In his final hours in office in 2021, Mr. Trump pardoned Mr. Bannon in a separate case. Mr. Bannon was under indictment on charges that he misused money he helped raise for a group backing Mr. Trump’s border wall, but had not yet gone to trial.

A few months after his conviction in Washington, Mr. Bannon was accused by state prosecutors in Manhattan of charges similar to those that led to his pardon. His trial is scheduled to take place later this year in the same courthouse where Mr. Trump is now being tried on charges of falsifying business records to cover up a sex scandal that threatened his 2016 run for the presidency.

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