Opinion

Is Steve Bannon's guilty verdict a 'victory' — or playing into his trap?

The sharpest opinions on the debate from around the web

Steve Bannon, a former adviser to ex-President Donald Trump, was found guilty of contempt of Congress on Friday after refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. Both the trial and jury deliberations were quick — having lasted only five days and under three hours, respectively — with sentencing to come in October.

In the meantime, as Bannon's lawyers talk of appealing the ruling, pundits and thought leaders are breaking down what the guilty verdict means for others in the select committee's crosshairs, as well as for the very man prosecutors say believed he was "above the law."

This is a rare victory, even if symbolic 

Bannon's conviction on two misdemeanor contempt charges, each of which carries a maximum sentence of one year in prison and up to an $100,000 fine, represents "only the bare minimum of accountability," Charlie Sykes wrote for MSNBC — any time he spends behind bars will almost certainly be short, as well as "undoubtedly" perfect for perpetuating an air of "legal martyrdom." But despite that sure-to-be-short-lived political disgrace, the point of the verdict is that Bannon has, in fact, been held accountable, "and these small victories have been rare over the past seven years." 

"It may be a relatively small victory for the Jan. 6 committee," Sykes continued, "but it is a victory nonetheless. And it is a reminder that in our system, Congress matters and that the rule of law applies to all…" In this instance, he said, "symbolism matters."

Writing for CNN, Brookings Institute Senior Fellow Norman Eisen and Lawyers Defending American Democracy's Dennis Aftergut seemed to agree with the general thrust of Sykes' point: Not only must an investigative committee or grand jury fight back against non-compliance for the obvious reasons, "[s]ubpoena defiance and the insurrection are birds of a feather," the pair wrote.

"The American system of government requires that there be both a peaceful transition of power and a successful investigation of those who seek to interfere with it," they continued. "Deterrence by punishment for such interference is the only way to stabilize American democracy," and Bannon is simply reaping what he's sown.

Is this the dawn of the 'Steve Bannon effect'?

Bannon has always seemed invincible, and the media has, for years, helped him perpetuate that aura, Bill Palmer mused Friday in The Palmer Report. Even after a conviction, he's pushing the narrative that somehow "this is all part of his master plan." But for everyone else in Trump's inner circle, perhaps the Bannon verdict will manifest itself as a warning against which they'll reevaluate their own situations. The longtime aide and former Breitbart News chair could have made his troubles go away by simply "cutting a cooperation deal that delivers Donald Trump to the DOJ," but he's "surely too arrogant to accept" that he needs the help. That said, we'll now see who, "if anyone, within Trump world takes the Bannon trial conviction as a wakeup call and decides to cut a cooperation deal," Palmer said.

"Will this 'Bannon effect' break the spell for some of them and get them to realize that they're better off cutting a cooperation deal sooner rather than later?" 

He wanted this

For those that watched the trial, it was clear Bannon was not "in it to win it," Adele Stan mused in The New Republic — rather, Bannon's "performance" during the proceedings was intended for "MAGA World," and to flood the media with his own narrative so as "to introduce doubt and chaos" before the appeal. The ex-aide's antics — which saw him suggest Jan. 6 committee Chair Bennie Thompson's COVID diagnosis to be fake ("[W]hat are the odds that the very day this trial starts … he comes up with COVID?") and once again perpetuate Trump's Big Lie — indicate he and his team were "aiming to lose this one, and lose it big and loud," Stan wrote the day before Bannon's guilty verdict was decided. 

"At the very least they're in it for the appeal," she said. "And if, in the meantime, they craft a counternarrative that works for Bannon's podcast audience, riling up the nativist right, introducing more general chaos into American political discourse … well, so much the better."

Speaking of the appeal…

In the opinion of The National Review's Andrew McCarthy, Democrats will likely "come to regret blowing up the 40-year norm against using the Justice Department as a hammer against the president's political opposition," he said. But no matter your stance on that, it seems certain Bannon's "appeal is apt to be more interesting than his trial," considering "[i]n the latter, he didn't have a prayer."

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