Jury selection began Monday for the contempt of Congress trial of Steve Bannon, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo
July 18 (UPI) -- A judge narrowed the field of prospective jurors in Steve Bannon's contempt of Congress to nearly two dozen people on Monday.
Bannon, a former top White House adviser under President Donald Trump, was indicted on two counts of contempt for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S. Capitol that sought testimony and documents about a meeting held on the night of Jan. 5, 2021.
Although Bannon, 68, was officially a White House adviser for just seven months early in Trump's term, the panel believes he still had communications with Trump until the end of his presidency in January 2021.
U.S. Judge Carl Nichols qualified a pool of 22 candidates Monday, which will ultimately be narrowed to 12 jurors and two alternates on Tuesday morning, when the judge said he expects the final phase of jury selection to conclude.
"You are not permitted to discuss this case with anyone," Nichols said as he excused the group of potential jurors, adding that they should avoid reading anything overnight about Bannon's case in addition to avoiding tweeting, texting, blogging or emailing.
Nichols previously said he was "hopeful" the court can find a jury that's not been closely following the Jan. 6 committee's high-profile public hearings and doesn't know much about Bannon, a high-profile figure in conservative media, to fairly hear the case.
The prospective jurors were asked whether they had written or said anything about Bannon or the Jan. 6 committee, which is set to hold its final scheduled public hearing on Thursday.
One man was dismissed after answering a single question, USA Today reported.
"I have formed an opinion about the case," he said. "The opinion is that Bannon is guilty."
Bannon surrendered to federal agents in Washington in November and pleaded not guilty to the charges, setting up the legal case, which he has threatened to turn into "the misdemeanor from hell" for President Joe Biden's administration.
"We're taking down the Biden regime," he said then outside the courthouse.
Bannon's lawyers twice attempted to delay the trial, citing complications brought on by the publicity surrounding the Jan. 6 attack, but Nichols denied both requests.
Nichols also ruled against a series of other motions, eliminating several defenses Bannon's legal team had raised and prompting his lawyer, David Schoen to ask, "What is the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?"
The judge simply responded, "Agreed."
The committee subpoenaed Bannon, who left the White House in August 2017, in September and said he was believed to be present at a Jan. 5 meeting to persuade lawmakers to block the certification of Biden's electoral victory. He also allegedly spoke with Trump on Dec. 30 and urged him to focus on Jan. 6.
Bannon's lawyers have argued that Trump invoked executive privilege to shield their conversations from the House panel's inquiries, but Nichols said it is not clear that Trump invoked the privilege or whether he has the ability to do so as a former president.
Former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and White House Deputy Chief of Staff for Communications Daniel Scavino, who similarly defied subpoenas from the committee, also initially faced contempt of Congress charges.
Meadows and Scavino discussed the terms and limits of potential testimony and executive privilege claims with the committee, and Meadows turned over thousands of text messages and communications with members of Congress and other White House aides.
Earlier this month, Bannon agreed to testify before the Jan. 6 committee after Trump said he would waive his claim of executive privilege, stating that Bannon had been treated "unfairly" and forced to "spend vast amounts of legal fees."
The committee said it would not negotiate terms for Bannon to appear for testimony until he produced the subpoenaed documents.
If convicted, Bannon would face at least one year in jail and a fine of $100,000.
Monday's jury selection comes ahead of the Jan. 6 committee's eighth public hearing, which is scheduled for prime time on Thursday. The hearing will focus on Trump's actions between the end of his "Save America" rally on Jan. 6, 2021, and when he publicly told the rioters to go home about three hours later.
Thompson said Thursday's hearing will be the last one "at this point," although the committee has said that there could be more hearings in August or September.
Former Oath Keepers spokesman Jason Van Tatenhove prepares to testify before the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol during the committee's seventh public hearing in Washington on July 12. Photo by Ken Cendeno/UPI | License Photo