Trump adviser Steve Bannon sentenced to four months in jail for contempt of Congress

A federal judge in Washington sentenced former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon to four months in jail and fined him $6,500 for criminal contempt of Congress stemming from his refusal to honour a subpoena from the House January 6 select committee.

Judge Carl Nichols, one of former president Donald Trump’s appointees to the federal bench, said Bannon had been “a private citizen” who withheld information “under which no conceivable claim of executive privilege could’ve been made”.

And while the judge acknowledged Bannon’s compliance with court orders while his case was pending and took note of his service in the US Navy, he said a custodial sentence was necessary to keep others from believing they can ignore congressional subpoenas.

“In my view, Mr Bannon has not taken responsibility for his actions,” he said. “Others must be deterred from committing similar crimes”.

Judge Nichols passed sentence after a contentious hearing at which Bannon’s lawyers repeatedly attacked the select committee and the government’s prosecution as politically motivated and defended the conduct which earned him a criminal conviction as being justified by adherence to the US constitution.

While Bannon’s defence counsel, David Schoen, said his client had merely followed the advice of his attorneys by refusing to comply with the subpoena on the grounds that he was protecting communications with Mr Trump that were covered by executive privilege, Assistant US Attorney JP Cooney said Bannon had chosen “hiding behind a fabricated claim of executive privilege and advice of counsel to thumb his nose at Congress” rather than comply with a lawful subpoena.

Mr Cooney urged the judge to use Bannon’s case to make an example of the consequences that can befall someone who defies a congressional subpoena.

“Your honour, the defendant is not above the law and that is exactly what makes this case important,” he said. “It must be made clear to the public, to the citizens, that no one is above the law.”

Many of the arguments raised by Bannon’s legal team at sentencing had been rejected by the judge before his July trial, after which a jury found him guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress.

Prosecutors had argued in court papers that the ex-Trump adviser turned podcast host should get a six-month sentence for having pursued a “bad-faith strategy of defiance and contempt” after the House select committee issued him a subpoena compelling him to produce documents and give evidence in a deposition.

The government had also asked Judge Nichols to impose a $200,000 fine because Bannon refused to cooperate with a pre-sentencing probe into his finances.

And although Judge Nichols had said he agreed with the government’s contention that Bannon expressed no remorse for his conduct, Mr Schoen said his client “should make no apology” despite having been convicted by a jury.

“There is nothing here to deter. There is nothing here to punish,” he said.

Judge Nichols disagreed and imposed a sentence of two months for each of the two counts Bannon was convicted on. But he also granted a small victory to Bannon by allowing him to remain free while he appeals his conviction.

After emerging from the courthouse, Bannon told reporters he respected Judge Nichols’ decision and said he had “total respect for this entire process on the legal side”.

He added that “the American people” would be “weighing and measuring what went on with the Justice Department and how they comported themselves” during his case and predicted that attorney general Merrick Garland will be impeached by a Republican-controlled House of Representatives next year and removed from office by the Senate.

Although he was allowed to delay serving his sentence while an appeals court considers his case, Bannon also faces the possibility of a prison sentence in New York stemming from a rash of charges brought against him earlier this year.

Over the summer, a New York grand jury indicted him on money laundering, fraud and conspiracy charges stemming from a campaign to build a privately funded wall along the US-Mexico border.

Prosecutors allege that he siphoned off hundreds of thousands of dollars after promising donors that all donations would be used to fund the wall project. He previously faced federal wire fraud charges associated with the same alleged fraud but received a pardon from Mr Trump just before his term expired on 20 January 2021.

With additional reporting by agencies