How Much Time Did Steve Bannon Get For Contempt of Congress?
Earlier this year, former White House strategist and Trump ally Steve Bannon was sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena. It was a far cry from prosecutors’ demand for six months, but the judge’s decision sent a message that courts were willing to take action.
The House Select Committee had subpoenaed Bannon to testify about his work as an adviser to the Trump campaign in the wake of the 2020 election. Bannon refused to provide any documents or testimony. The prosecutors argued that Bannon had engaged in a “bad faith” strategy and was seeking to undermine the investigation. They also listed a number of bombastic statements that Bannon made about lawmakers and the justice system. The Justice Department said Bannon was seeking to thumb his nose at Congress.
At the end of his trial, Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress. The court ordered him to pay a fine of $6,500. While that’s a significant sum, it was far from the $200,000 that prosecutors wanted.
According to federal statute, a criminal contempt of Congress charge carries a maximum of one year in prison and a minimum of 30 days in jail. In addition, a defendant is required to pay a fine of at least one month. The Department of Justice argued that a sentence of just a month would not adequately deter Bannon from committing further crimes.
The prosecutor noted that Bannon had not answered just one question from the committee and he had acted in a willful and obstinate manner. He claimed that Bannon fabricated advice to thumb his nose at Congress and to thwart the committee’s work. The judge agreed that there was a minimal risk of recidivism.
Bannon’s lawyers, however, argued that the incarceration of Bannon would be a misplaced punishment. They pointed to federal prosecutors who had alleged that Bannon had pursued a “bad-faith” strategy. They argued that the Justice Department should have charged Bannon with more serious crimes.
The judge also weighed the importance of deterring other people from breaking the law. The Department of Justice cited a number of Bannon’s statements that were bombastic, and argued that a one-month sentence was not sufficient.
The judge ruled that Bannon will not serve time immediately, but will remain free until he exhausts his appeal rights. He noted that a one-month sentence is insufficient, but that the incarceration of Bannon is likely to serve as a deterrent to others.
In his courtroom appearance, Bannon was stoic and expressionless. He walked up to the lectern, but did not speak. He thanked attorney David Schoen several times.
Bannon’s lawyer argued that Bannon was acting on principle and believed that he was obeying the law. He asked for probation instead of jail time, and also requested that the judge postpone the sentence until his appeal was heard. He also called the House Committee “gutless”.
Although Steve Bannon has not yet complied with a single document or deposition, he has made it clear that he will fight the conviction. The judge’s decision sets a strict standard for future contempt cases.