The question for Steve Bannon this morning was not about his guilt. That matter was resolved in July when a jury found the right-wing operative/podcaster guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress for blowing off the Jan. 6 select committee.
Rather, today’s question was about Bannon’s punishment: Donald Trump’s former chief strategist, having already been convicted, was back in court this morning to receive his sentence. A judge sentenced him to four months in jail along with a $6,500 fine.
U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols conceded this morning that Bannon poses a “very small risk of recidivism with regard to congressional subpoenas,” but the sentence was necessary to send a signal about the importance of cooperating with congressional investigations.
“Others must be deterred from committing similar crimes,” Nichols said.
The judge, it’s worth noting for context, is a Trump appointee who clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.
Federal prosecutors had asked for a six-month sentence and a $200,000 fine, arguing in a court filing this week that showed “a total disregard for government processes and the law” in ignoring the congressional subpoena while smearing the House investigation and the justice system with “rhetoric that risks inspiring violence.” Bannon’s lawyers asked for probation.
For Bannon’s many detractors, the fact that he’s received a four-month prison sentence might seem satisfying, but the details matter: The operative/podcaster won’t be required to surrender to prison right away. On the contrary, Nichols agreed to delay Bannon’s sentencing while the appeals process plays out — as long as the appeal is “timely” — and that could take several months.
In other words, those hoping to see reports about Bannon behind bars will have to patient, because that won’t happen anytime soon.
For those who might need a refresher, let’s revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
The one thing everyone involved in the process can agree on is that Bannon has important insights related to the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol. He was in communications with Trump in the runup to the insurrectionist riot, and he reportedly told the outgoing president, “[I]t’s time to kill the Biden presidency in the crib.”
The day before the attack, Bannon seemed to know quite a bit about what was likely to happen, telling his podcast listeners, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow. Just understand this: All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.... [A]ll I can say is: Strap in. You have made this happen, and tomorrow it’s game day.”
With this in mind, it hardly came as a surprise when the bipartisan House committee investigating the attack issued subpoenas in September 2021, seeking information from key Trump insiders — and Bannon was at the top of the list.
When he refused to comply in any way, the House approved a resolution finding the GOP operative in contempt of Congress. As part of the same process, the Democratic-led chamber referred the matter to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution, and in November 2021, Bannon was indicted by a federal grand jury, charged with one count of contempt and another involving his refusal to produce documents, despite a congressional subpoena.
The criminal trial didn’t go especially well for the defendant: Bannon’s defense team called no witnesses, and the accused never took the stand. The jury only deliberated for about three hours before finding him guilty.
And now he’s received a four-month sentence, which he might eventually serve. Someday. Maybe. I think.
Two years ago, when federal prosecutors first filed criminal charges against Bannon, he was accused at the time of participating in an alleged wall-building scam. On Jan. 20, 2021, with just hours remaining in his presidency, Trump pardoned Bannon before prosecutors could bring the case to trial.
Unfortunately for the operative/podcaster, he’s in trouble again, and this time, turning to an allied White House isn’t much of an option.