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Appeals court denies Bannon bid to stave off July 1 jail sentence

A federal appeals court has denied a last-minute bid by Steve Bannon, a longtime Donald Trump adviser and prominent conservative podcaster, to stave off a four-month jail sentence for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee three years ago.

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 Thursday night that Bannon’s bid to remain out of prison while he appeals his contempt of Congress conviction to the Supreme Court lacked merit since the justices are unlikely to take his argument seriously.

Judges Patricia Millett, an Obama appointee, and Bradley Garcia, a Biden appointee, ruled that Bannon had “no basis” to believe that the high court would take up his case given longstanding precedents that the justices have relied on in similar cases.

However, Judge Justin Walker, a Trump appointee, broke from his colleagues, suggesting that Bannon’s argument might draw interest from the justices.

“Bannon should not go to prison before the Supreme Court considers his forthcoming petition,” Walker wrote in a two-page dissent.

Bannon is now expected to turn to the Supreme Court to make a last-ditch attempt to forestall his prison sentence.

The Jan. 6 committee subpoenaed Bannon in October 2021, seeking details about his interactions with Trump in the weeks before a mob stormed the Capitol seeking to block the transfer of power from Trump to Joe Biden. Bannon had publicly discussed strategizing ways for members of Congress to challenge the 2020 election results, and the committee obtained evidence about Bannon’s numerous phone calls with Trump in the days and weeks before the Jan. 6 attack.

Bannon’s blanket refusal to respond to the subpoena prompted the committee — and ultimately the House — to hold him in contempt. The Justice Department indicted him several weeks later, and in July 2022 a jury convicted Bannon on two misdemeanor counts. Bannon, however, has remained free for the last two years while he appealed his conviction, a decision made by his trial judge Carl Nichols, who agreed that Bannon might have a legitimate argument to challenge his prosecution.

At issue is the wording of the 19th-century “contempt of Congress” law that a jury convicted Bannon for violating, which requires that violators “willfully” refuse to cooperate with Congress.

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Bannon has claimed his decision to defy the Jan. 6 committee was the result of advice from a lawyer who told him he was not obligated to comply. Relying on his lawyer’s advice, Bannon’s team argued, means his decision was not “willful.” But the federal appeals court in D.C. has long held that “willfulness” simply means making a deliberate decision not to cooperate, no matter the reason.

As a result, Nichols — a Trump appointee — rejected Bannon’s attempt to scuttle the case. At Bannon’s October 2022 sentencing, Nichols also agreed to allow him to remain free during his appeal, noting that higher courts might see merit in his arguments.

But Nichols reversed course earlier this month after a unanimous panel of the D.C. Circuit resoundingly rejected Bannon’s appeal. Citing the forcefulness of the new ruling, as well as a similar ruling in a related contempt of Congress case, Nichols revoked Bannon’s release and ordered him to report to prison by July 1.

Another former Trump adviser, Peter Navarro, was also convicted of contempt for defying the Jan. 6 committee and received a four-month jail sentence. His lawyers went all the way to the Supreme Court to try to put off the sentence until after his appeals were complete, but the requests were rejected by Chief Justice John Roberts and, later, by Justice Clarence Thomas.

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