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Judge sets July date for Steve Bannon's contempt of Congress trial

Bannon was charged after he refused to respond to a subpoena for his testimony from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
Image: Former Trump Administration White House advisor Steve Bannon departs U.S. District Court after an appearance on Nov. 15, 2021 in Washington, DC.
Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon leaves U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 15.Win McNamee / Getty Images

A federal judge set a July trial date for former Trump aide Steve Bannon, who is charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for refusing to respond to a subpoena for his testimony from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riot at the U.S. Capitol.

The Justice Department urged the judge to schedule the trial for April. Prosecutors said they would need only one day to present testimony. Bannon's lawyers said the case presents novel issues involving executive privilege. They said that the trial should not begin until mid-October and that it would most likely take at least 10 days.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols said the government wanted to move "at light speed" in a case that might present complicated issues. But he also said, "We don't need 10 months to do this."

He scheduled the trial to begin July 18 and set aside two weeks on the calendar.

One of Bannon's lawyers said the defense said needs time to examine how the House Jan. 6 committee reached its decision to cite him for contempt of Congress.

The lawyer, David Schoen, said Bannon offered to answer the committee's questions if Congress filed a civil lawsuit against him and a judge ordered him to testify. But the committee chose, instead, to pursue a criminal charge. "By making that decision, they triggered a number of constitutional rights" that add to the complexity of the case, he said.

It is now clear that an important issue will be whether Bannon can argue that he should not be convicted because he acted on the advice of his lawyer in refusing to comply with the committee's subpoena.

Some federal courts have held that acting on the advice of counsel is a legitimate defense. Those courts have reasoned that someone must act with guilty intent to be convicted of a crime. But if a lawyer had advised a defendant to do something and that advice was followed in good faith, then there was no criminal intent, those rulings have said.

The prosecutors said that defense is not available for this charge. But Schoen said, "We believe advice of counsel absolutely applies." If the advice of counsel defense is allowed, Bannon's lawyer at the earlier stages in the case, Robert Costello, will be an important witness at the trial.

Nichols said he would rule soon on how many restrictions will be placed on evidence the government turns over to Bannon's lawyers. Matthew Corcoran, another Bannon lawyer, argued for as few restrictions as possible.

"We want the public to have the ability to see how the decisions were made in this case," including decisions by the Jan. 6 committee and by the federal grand jury that returned the indictment charging Bannon with contempt of Congress.