Jury selection has begun in the criminal trial of Steve Bannon, a prominent former presidential aide to Donald Trump, for defying a subpoena from a congressional panel investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol by a pro-Trump mob.
Bannon, 68, is facing two misdemeanour counts of contempt of Congress after he declined to provide testimony or documents to the Democratic-led House of Representatives select committee.
As of mid-morning, lawyers for both sides had agreed on three of the 12 jurors and two alternates needed for the trial in federal court. Three jury candidates were rejected.
Bannon had unsuccessfully tried to persuade US District Judge Carl Nichols to delay the trial, arguing that the committee’s high-profile public hearings could make it harder to assemble an impartial jury.
The committee presented evidence last week that Bannon spoke with Trump at least twice on the day before the January 6, 2021, attack.
The committee also played a clip of Bannon saying on a right-wing talk show on January 5 that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.” Bannon made those comments after his first call with Trump, the committee said.
The committee plans to hold another hearing on Thursday evening, aimed at reaching a broad television audience. Bannon’s trial will likely still be going on at that point. Nichols said on Monday it could extend into next week.
Bannon has argued that the material sought by the committee was protected by a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential.
Trump told Bannon this month he was waiving any executive privilege claim.
Bannon reversed course this month and announced that he wanted to testify before a public committee hearing, nearly 10 months after defying the subpoena. There has been no indication of any plan to have him do so, as the committee likely would want him to first testify in closed sessions in order to cover a wide range of matters.
Nichols has ruled that Bannon cannot use executive privilege as a defence and cannot claim he relied on his lawyer’s advice when he declined to testify or provide records. Nichols has left open the possibility that Bannon could present evidence of his recent offer to cooperate with the panel as a defence.
Trump’s supporters attacked the Capitol in a failed effort to block formal congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden.
As a top adviser to the Republican Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign who later served as White House chief strategist, Bannon helped articulate the “America First” right-wing populism and fierce opposition to immigration that helped define Trump’s presidency.
Bannon separately was charged in 2020 with defrauding donors to a private fund-raising effort to boost Trump’s project to build a wall along the US-Mexican border. Trump subsequently issued a pardon to Bannon before that case could go to trial.