WASHINGTON – A defiant Steve Bannon vowed Monday to challenge federal contempt charges for refusing to cooperate with a House committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, as the former Trump White House political strategist asserted that the Justice Department had taken on the “wrong guy this time.”
“I’m telling you right now, this is going to be the misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden,” Bannon told reporters following a brief court appearance where he was released without bond pending trial.
The flamboyant stalwart of former President Donald Trump, with his arm slung around defense attorney David Schoen, referred to the attorney general and two Democrats as part of a political effort to punish former Trump’s allies.
“I’m never going to back down,” Bannon added. “We’re going to go on offense.”
As Bannon spoke to a scrum of reporters gathered outside the downtown D.C. courthouse, a few protesters railed against him, calling him a “insurrectionist.”
Bannon’s brief court appearance marked the first public reading of the charges against him: two related counts for defying a House subpoena seeking documents and testimony as part of an escalating congressional inquiry into the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
Each charge carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, along with a maximum fine of $100,000.
Prosecutors made no request that Bannon be detained pending trial, and U.S. Magistrate Robin Meriweather set personal recognizance release conditions that required the surrender of Bannon’s passport and weekly reporting to court authorities.
Bannon, who conferred briefly with attorneys at the defense table, acknowledged that he understood the conditions and would abide by them.
Meriweather set arraignment for Thursday before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, who was appointed to the bench in 2019 by Trump.
The former White House adviser started the day in Bannon style, livestreaming his arrival at the FBI’s Washington Field Office for his podcast “War Room” on Gettr, a social media service founded by Jason Miller, a former Trump aide who was also subpoenaed.
“We’re taking down the Biden regime,” Bannon said before meeting with the FBI. “I want you guys to stay focused, stay on message. Remember, signal, not noise. This is all noise, that’s signal.”
Garland’s decision to pursue the Bannon case represents a serious escalation of the House panel’s investigation and an important test for the Biden Justice Department and an attorney general who has vowed to separate politics from a department roiled by the repeated interventions of Trump.
Thompson, Cheney warn others
In a joint statement issued shortly after the Bannon charges were announced Friday, committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chairwoman Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., signaled that other witnesses, including former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows, risk the same fate for defying committee subpoenas.
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Hours before the Bannon charges were disclosed, Meadows failed to show up for a deposition Friday.
“Steve Bannon’s indictment should send a clear message to anyone who thinks they can ignore the Select Committee or try to stonewall our investigation: no one is above the law. We will not hesitate to use the tools at our disposal to get the information we need,” the lawmakers said.
“While we’re determined to get all the information we’re seeking, Mr. Meadows, Mr. Bannon, and others who go down this path won’t prevail in stopping the Select Committee’s effort getting answers for the American people about January 6th.”
Criminal contempt prosecutions are rare, and typically a settlement is negotiated to avoid them, according to a nonpartisan Congressional Research Service report. Litigation could take months or years.
Bannon, who didn’t work for the executive branch at the time, was in contact with Trump in the days leading up to Jan. 6. Bannon’s lawyers told the committee in a letter Oct. 7 that Trump instructed him not to cooperate because the former president would fight disclosure under executive privilege – despite the fact that Bannon was not working for the government.