Steve Bannon pleads not guilty to criminal contempt of Congress

Steve Bannon has pleaded not guilty to two charges of criminal contempt of Congress, over his defiance of a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the deadly attack on the US Capitol.

In documents filed on Wednesday, the rightwing gadfly, a former Trump campaign chair and White House strategist, waived his right to a formal reading of the indictment against him.

Contempt of Congress is punishable by up to a year in prison and a fine of up to $100,000. No one has been charged with it since 1983. Bannon faces one count for refusing to appear for a deposition before the House committee and a second for refusing to produce documents.

He and other Trump aides summoned by the committee have invoked executive privilege, claiming communications with Donald Trump around the Capitol attack are protected by that constitutional dictum.

But the Biden White House has declined to invoke executive privilege in most cases – and Bannon was not working for Trump at the time of the attack on the Capitol, on 6 January this year. Mark Meadows, then White House chief of staff, has also ignored the House committee.

The attack on the Capitol followed a rally near the White House at which Trump told supporters to “fight like hell” to overturn his election defeat by Joe Biden, which he falsely maintains was the result of electoral fraud.

Five people died around the riot, including a police officer who died the next day and one rioter shot by law enforcement. About 140 officers were injured. Four later killed themselves.

Trump was impeached for a second time, for inciting an insurrection. It was the most bipartisan impeachment ever, supported by 10 House Republicans. But only seven GOP senators found Trump guilty, ensuring his acquittal.

Bannon is now represented by Bruce Schoen, a defense lawyer in Trump’s second impeachment trial. The judge in Bannon’s case is Carl Nichols – a Trump appointee.

Bannon helped stoke “Stop the Steal” efforts which culminated in the rally near the White House and the attack on the Capitol. The House select committee is also investigating Bannon’s links to a “command centre” set up at the Willard Hotel, near the White House, in the days before the riot.

The committee has noted a comment Bannon made on his podcast on 5 January: “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”

Bannon, who has boasted of a communications strategy based on misinformation – or “flooding the zone with shit” – spoke to reporters outside court on Monday. His prosecution, he said, was a politically motivated attack by President Biden, the attorney general, Merrick Garland, and the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

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