Stephen Bannon, former President Donald Trump's one-time strategist and campaign chairman, is going on trial Monday to face two counts of contempt of Congress over his flouting of a subpoena from the House Jan. 6 committee. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, the Trump appointee overseeing Bannon's trial in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., rejected most of Bannon's proposed defense strategies in hearings last week.
"What's the point of going to trial if there are no defenses?" Bannon lawyer David Schoen asked after Nichols threw out Bannon's proposed motions to delay the trial, put prominent Democrats on the stand for questioning, and take shelter under what Bannon unsuccessfully claimed was Trump's invocation of executive privilege. "Agreed," Nichols replied.
That was Nichols' way of urging Bannon to seek a plea deal to avoid a short trial he is very likely to lose, George Washington University law professor Randall Eliason told The Washington Post. "Obviously everyone's entitled to a trial, but usually if you go to trial there's some kind of legal or factual dispute that needs to be resolved," he explained. "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."
Jury selection is slated to begin Monday, and once a jury is seated, "the trial is likely to be brief — prosecutors say their case will take a day, and given the judge's limitations on which witnesses Bannon can call and what issues he can raise, it's unclear how long Bannon's own case may take," the Post reports. Each count Bannon faces carries a minimum 30-day sentence and maximum one year in prison, but prosecuting contempt of Congress is exceedingly rare, and Bannon's case is unusual in other ways.
Bannon has made clear he will not plead guilty. "Pray for our enemies, because we're going medieval on these people," he said in a recent podcast about his upcoming trial. "We're going to savage our enemies."
Given Bannon's long odds at trial, he may be refusing to negotiate a plea deal to preserve his right to appeal, or "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."