Steve Bannon surrenders to FBI after criminal charge for defying Capitol riot committee

The former Trump adviser recieved a presidential pardon earlier this year but now faces new criminal charges over his refusal to give evidence before the Capitol riot committee

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Monday 15 November 2021 21:54 GMT
Steve Bannon surrenders to the FBI

Less than a year after he was granted a last-minute pardon by former president Donald Trump, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon is in FBI custody once more.

The conservative podcast host and former Breitbart News chairman surrendered himself at the FBI’s Washington Field Office shortly after 9.30 am on Monday after emerging from a black SUV dressed in a green winter jacket and black shirt.

As he walked towards the building, he stopped briefly to address a camera which was live-streaming his surrender for his War Room podcast. He told his viewers: “I don’t want anybody to take their eye off the ball, what we do every day” and declared that he and his supporters were “taking down the Biden regime” while calling the case against him “all noise, not signal”.

On Friday, a District of Columbia grand jury indicted Mr Bannon on two counts of criminal contempt of congress, the result of a referral by the House of Representatives last month after he defied a subpoena commanding him to give evidence before the House select committee investigating the 6 January insurrection.

Committee members believe Mr Bannon, who on the 5 January edition of War Room declared that “all hell” would “break loose” the next day, when Congress was schedule to meet in joint session to certify President Joe Biden’s 2020 election win, has information about what White House and Trump campaign officials may have known about the day’s events.

But Mr Bannon, who served as Mr Trump’s top adviser from January 2017 to July 2017, has claimed that executive privilege — a legal doctrine that protects conversations between and among a president and his advisers – precludes him from having to testify about the events leading up to the worst attack on the Capitol since the Burning of Washington in 1814.

Most reputable legal scholars say such claims hold no water because the events in question took place long after he left government service. If convicted, the erstwhile naval officer and film producer could face up to two years behind bars if convicted.

At a short hearing on Monday lunchtime in front of Judge Robin Meriweather, Mr Bannon surrendered his passport and agreed to weekly check-ins with pretrial services. His arraignment is set for Thursday at 11am and there will be no detention ahead of the trial.

The legal team representing Mr Bannon includes David Schoen, who worked on former president Trump’s impeachment. At the time, the Trump ally railed against Mr Schoen.

A defiant Mr Bannon and his lawyer addressed the media outside of the court.

“This is going to be the misdemeanor from hell,” he said. “We’re going to go on the offence.”

He added: “They took on the wrong guy this time.”

At times Mr Bannon was heckled with shouts of “traitor” and “fascist”, and a man stood nearby with a sign that read: “coup plotter.”

Mr Bannon’s case has been assigned to US Judge Carl Nichols, a 2019 Trump appointee — however, if former White House chief strategist thinks having his contempt of Congress case assigned to a judge appointed by the former president is a lucky break, he might want to think again.

Judge Nichols is a former partner at the law firm WilmerHale who served in the George W Bush administration after clerking for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. A former Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General, Judge Nichols has made a number of rulings in high profile cases that have gone against the interests of Mr Trump and his allies.

In August, he declined to grant motions to dismiss lawsuits filed by Dominion Voting Systems against pillow maker turned conspiracy theorist Mike Lindell and Trump attorneys Sidney Powell and Rudy Giuliani. A year before that, he blocked the Trump administration from implementing an executive order barring social media company TikTok from operating in the US.

And since January, he has heard a number of cases related to the 6 January insurrection — and he has not shied away from locking defendants up. At a bail hearing earlier this year, he told one defendant’s lawyer that she was “an active person in a riot that aimed to prevent by violent means a normally quiet but critical step in the peaceful transition of power,” and said her actions “[flew] in the face of common decency and [flew] in the face of democracy and the rule of law”.

On Friday, he sentenced another defendant — Bradley Rukstales of Inverness, Illinois — to 30 days in jail for demonstrating in the Capitol without a permit.

Mr Bannon’s surrender to the FBI marks the second time in less than two years that he has found himself under indictment and in the custody of federal law enforcement officials.

In August 2020, FBI agents descended upon a yacht owned by Chinese billionaire and right-wing financial patron Guo Wengui to arrest him on charges that he and other co-conspirators had bilked Trump supporters out of millions of dollars via an online fundraising campaign to build a privately-funded wall along the US-Mexico border.

The charges were dismissed nine months later after a federal judge ruled that a last-minute pardon by Mr Trump cleared his former adviser, but Mr Bannon still could face similar charges in New York State if prosecutors there choose to pursue them.

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