Steve Bannon, an ally of former president Donald Trump, has appeared before a judge to face criminal contempt charges for defying a subpoena from a House committee investigating January’s insurrection at the US Capitol.
Bannon surrendered earlier in the day to FBI agents. The 67-year-old was indicted on Friday on two counts of criminal contempt – one for refusing to appear for a congressional deposition and the other for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena.
Bannon did not enter a plea during the hearing. Magistrate Judge Robin Meriweather released him without bail but required him to check in weekly with court officials and ordered him to surrender his passport. He is due back in court on Thursday.
If convicted, Bannon faces a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year behind bars on each count, prosecutors said. Outside the courthouse, a large inflatable rat made to look like former president Trump was on the pavement as reporters waited for Bannon to leave the courthouse.
The indictment came as a second expected witness, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, defied a separate subpoena from the committee on Friday and as Mr Trump has escalated his legal battles to withhold documents and testimony about the insurrection.
If the House votes to hold Meadows in contempt, that recommendation would also be sent to the Justice Department for a possible indictment.
Officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations have been held in contempt by Congress, but criminal indictments for contempt are exceedingly rare.
The indictment against Bannon comes after a slew of Trump administration officials – including Bannon – defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence, including during an impeachment inquiry. President Barack Obama’s administration also declined to charge two of its officials who defied congressional demands.
The indictment says Bannon did not communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on September 24 until October 7 when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due.
Bannon, who worked at the White House at the beginning of the Trump administration and currently serves as host of the conspiracy-minded “War Room” podcast, is a private citizen who “refused to appear to give testimony as required by a subpoena,” the indictment says.
When Bannon declined to appear for his deposition in October, his attorney said the former Trump adviser had been directed by a lawyer for Mr Trump citing executive privilege not to answer questions.
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