Steve Bannon's Contempt Trial To Start: What To Expect From Proceedings

Former White House chief strategist Steve Bannon went to trial Monday on two counts of contempt of Congress over his refusal to comply with a subpoena from the committee investigating his alleged role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots .

Bannon has vowed that the charges against him will become a "misdemeanor from hell" for the Biden administration, but legal experts have said that the trial will likely be quick. At a July 11 hearing, the former Breitbart editor's legal strategy was severely damaged, after Bannon's lawyer David Shoen asked U.S. District Judge Carl J. Nichols, "what's the point of going to trial if there are no defenses?" Nichols replied: "Agreed."

The damning exchange was a marked contrast to Bannon's bullish declaration that was livestreamed when he surrendered to the FBI in late 2021 on the contempt charges, where he said: "We're taking down the Biden regime."

The trial could lead to the first guilty verdict for contempt of Congress in nearly 50 years.

The former Donald Trump advisor has repeatedly pleaded not guilty and said that conversations he had with the former president leading up to the Capitol insurrection are protected by "executive privilege"—the right of a U.S. president and members of his team to maintain confidential communications under certain circumstances and defy some subpoenas and other processes involving judicial and legislative branches of government. However, this is a weak claim, as Bannon left his government role in 2017, way before had those conversations with Trump in late 2020 and early 2021.

The jury selection began Monday before the panel's opening arguments. Prosecutors only presented their case on Monday, The Washington Post reported, focusing on Bannon ignoring a September 2021 subpoena requesting him to hand in documents and testify before the January 6 committee.

Bannon faces up to two years in prison if convicted on both contempt counts.

One legal expert has said that the prominent Trump ally will pursue what is sometimes referred to as "a long guilty plea."

"The judge's point is, there aren't really any here...In those instances, going to trial becomes what prosecutors sometimes call a long guilty plea," Randall Eliason, a George Washington University law professor and former federal prosecutor, assessed in comments to the Post.

The lawyer suggested that Bannon may want to present himself as a "martyr" for the so-called "Make America Great Again" movement of Trump supporters.

"Maybe it's just a show to him, one where he can play the MAGA martyr and use it to raise his profile," Eliason said. "That's not a legal reason to go to trial but it may be enough of a reason for him."

These sorts of trials are rare and when there have been, individuals are rarely charged with alleged contempt of Congress.

The last time someone was convicted for contempt of Congress was in 1974, when G. Gordon Liddy was found guilty for his role in the Watergate scandal.

Another Trump aide, Peter Navarro, has also been charged with two counts of contempt of Congress for rebuffing the January 6 committee subpoena. In June, when Navarro was indited, the Justice Department said it would not charge Trump's former communications aide Dan Scavino, and former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows.

Steve Bannon
Steve Bannon, advisor to former President Donald Trump, departs the E. Barrett Prettyman U.S. Courthouse on June 15, 2022 in Washington, D.C. Bannon is accused of contempt of Congress and will stand trial on Monday. Win McNamee/Getty