WASHINGTON, Nov 9 (Reuters) – Steve Bannon, who was a senior adviser to former President Donald Trump, faced a skeptical federal appeals court on Thursday as he sought to overturn his criminal conviction for defying a subpoena from a congressional committee investigating the January attacks. June 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol.
Bannon, sentenced last year, in connection with two counts of contempt of Congress, sought to argue that he did not receive a fair trial because the judge barred him from presenting essential arguments in his defense, including the fact that his attorney told him he was not required to comply with the subpoena.
Bannon “acted in the only way the law allowed him to behave,” his lawyer David Schoen told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.
Bannon, who did not attend Thursday’s hearing, said he did not need to turn over documents or testify before the Democratic-led House Select Committee because Trump had invoked executive privilege, a legal doctrine that maintains the confidentiality of certain White House communications.
The court appears unconvinced by Schoen’s argument.
Judge Cornelia Pillard noted that Bannon was not working at the White House at the time of the riot and that much of the information sought by the committee was not related to his interactions with Trump.
“I don’t see in the record that there was any response other than ‘no,'” Pillard said of Bannon’s handling of the subpoena.
Prosecutors at the trial convinced U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols to bar this executive privilege defense, arguing that, legally, it didn’t matter why Bannon refused to cooperate, only that he had made a deliberate decision not to comply with the subpoena.
Bannon was sentenced by Nichols in October 2022 to four months in prison and a fine of $6,500. Nichols allowed him to remain free while he appeals.
Outside the courthouse, Schoen told reporters that if the three-judge panel rejected Bannon’s appeal, he would ask the full Washington Circuit Court to review the decision and possibly appeal to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.
Bannon, an influential right-wing media provocateur, served as Trump’s chief White House strategist in 2017 before a falling out between them that was later calmed down. He remains popular on the American right.
The commission requested information from Bannon, citing reports that he had discussions with members of Congress about blocking certification of the results of the 2020 presidential election – Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Trump – and predicted that “all hell is going to break loose” on the day of the Capitol riot.
Trump supporters attacked police, stormed barricades and invaded the Capitol in a failed attempt to stop Congress’ certification of Biden’s victory.
Prosecutors said Trump did not fully invoke executive privilege over Bannon’s testimony and that much of the information lawmakers sought from Bannon, who was no longer with the administration at the time of the attack, were not protected.
“Steven Bannon deliberately chose not to comply with a lawful congressional subpoena,” Elizabeth Danello, a Justice Department lawyer, said at the hearing.
The House committee disbanded at the end of 2022 without getting information from Bannon.
Reporting by Andrew Goudsward; Editing by Will Dunham and Scott Malone
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