Federal appeals court affirms conviction of Trump ex-advisor for contempt of Jan. 6 congressional committee News
Elekes Andor, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons
Federal appeals court affirms conviction of Trump ex-advisor for contempt of Jan. 6 congressional committee

The US Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit on Friday affirmed the conviction of former President Trump’s ex-advisor Steve Bannon for contempt of Congress. His conviction resulted from his noncompliance with a US House of Representatives subpoena in the investigation of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

During the summer of 2021, the House passed House Resolution 503, which created a House committee to investigate the January 6 attack. The resolution authorized the committee’s power to issue subpoenas for testimony and documents and propose legislation it finds necessary based on its investigation.

After finding that Bannon discussed “efforts to overturn the 2020 election results” close to January 6, 2021, and that he publicly stated on the day before that he predicted “all hell [wa]s going to break loose” on January 6, the committee issued him a subpoena for documents and testimony related to his communications with Trump and “White House and campaign staff, other private citizens, and related activities.” Bannon did not comply with the subpoena and was subsequently convicted of contempt of Congress and sentenced to eight months of imprisonment with a $6,500 fine.

Bannon appealed his conviction on four grounds:

He argue[d] that the district court erroneously defined the mental state required for a contempt of Congress charge, that his conduct was affirmatively authorized by government officials, that the [c]ommittee’s subpoena was invalid to begin with, and that the trial court should not have quashed certain trial subpoenas that sought to develop evidence for his defense.

Bannon argued that the trial court misinterpreted “willfully” from 2 U.S.C. § 192, the contempt-of-Congress statute, by defining it to mean “deliberately” and “intentionally” without including “in good-faith.” He argued that he did not “willfully” refuse to answer the subpoena because he acted in good faith based on his attorney’s counsel. The court rejected those arguments because it had already decided in Licavoli v. United States that one cannot use the good-faith defense, especially when it’s based on an attorney’s counsel.

The court also found that Bannon’s conduct was not affirmatively authorized by government officials since the statute does not permit a defense for acting based on an attorney’s counsel.

The court rejected Bannon’s objections to the validity of the committee’s subpoena because when Bannon was able to raise the objections, “[he] did not raise them before the [c]ommittee and therefore forfeited them.” The court emphasized that raising an objection in an untimely manner denies “the [c]ommittee the opportunity to consider the objection or remedy it,” and so obstructs the committee’s processes and undermines its authority.

For Bannon’s trial subpoenas, the court held that they should have been quashed because the information requested by his subpoenas was immaterial to his defense. He was seeking information about the political motives of the committee members, which the court found to be irrelevant to the elements of the contempt offense and to any applicable affirmative defenses.

Bannon must file a petition for writ of certiorari to the US Supreme Court within 90 days following the appellate court’s judgment to have another chance at reversing his conviction.