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Trial begins for ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress case

WASHINGTON — Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to former President Donald Trump. He faces criminal charges of contempt of Congress after refusing for months to cooperate with the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot.

Bannon is accused in federal court in Washington of defying a Jan. 6 subpoena from the committee that sought his records and testimony. He was indicted in November on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, a month after the Justice Department was impeached by Congress. Each count carries a minimum of 30 days in jail and up to a year behind bars.

By early afternoon, eight jurors had been seated in a slow process known as voir dire. Much of the questioning of potential jurors by Bannon’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, focused on how much of the Jan. 6 hearings they have attended and whether they have opinions about the committee and its work.

In one case, a prospective juror flatly told US District Judge Carl Nichols that remaining impartial would be a “challenge” for him, as, “I believe (Bannon) is guilty.”

That admission, in addition to disqualifying the potential juror, prompted questioning of others who had sat next to the man to determine how widely he had shared his opinion.

The trial follows a flurry of activity in the case since July 9. A week ago, the former White House general informed the committee that he is now willing to testify. His former lawyer, Robert Costello, said the change was because Trump had waived his claim of executive privilege to block the deposition.

Bannon, 68, has been one of the most prominent of Trump’s allies to refuse to testify before the committee. He had argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege, which allows presidents to withhold confidential information from the courts and the executive branch.

Trump has repeatedly claimed executive privilege — despite being a former, not current, president — to try to block the testimony of witnesses and the release of White House documents. The Supreme Court ruled in January against Trump’s efforts to stop the National Archives from cooperating with the committee after a lower court judge — Ketanji Brown Jackson, now on the Supreme Court — noted, in part, “Presidents are not kings.” .

The committee also noted that Trump fired Bannon from the White House in 2017, so Bannon was private when advising the president ahead of the uprising.

Judge Nichols rejected motions to delay the contempt trial in separate hearings last week, including Thursday when Bannon’s lawyers raised concerns about a CNN report that has since aired about their client that they said was prejudicial. during a hearing last week held by the House. commission.

“I know the current concerns about publicity and bias and whether we can seat a jury that’s going to be fit and fair, but as I said before, I think the appropriate course is to go through the difficult process,” Nichols said. . Thursday. The judge said he intended to get a jury that “will be appropriate, fair and impartial.”

While the judge allowed the trial to proceed, Nichols left open the possibility that the letters about Trump waiving his privilege and Bannon’s offer to cooperate with the committee could be referred to in the trial, saying the information was “ at least potentially relevant’ to Bannon’s defense. .

Roscoe Howard Jr., the former U.S. attorney in Washington, said Bannon’s best case scenario is if information about his cooperation offer reaches the grand jury. Even if, however, the claim that executive privilege prevented him from cooperating earlier will be a difficult argument because Bannon has refused to respond to the subpoena, Howard said.

“You have to show up to plead the privilege claim. You can’t phone it in,” he said.

Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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Trial begins for ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress case Source link Trial begins for ex-Trump adviser Steve Bannon in contempt of Congress case

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