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Former Trump advisor Steve Bannon sentenced to four months in prison

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A federal judge says former Trump adviser Steve Bannon is headed to prison for four months but not before he gets a chance to appeal his conviction for contempt of Congress. Bannon's lawyer David Schoen addressed reporters outside the courthouse.

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DAVID SCHOEN: It's an extraordinary move to permit a stay pending appeal. It was the appropriate move.

CHANG: NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson is at the federal courthouse in Washington, and she's with us now to talk more about this case. Hey, Carrie.

CARRIE JOHNSON, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So can you just first remind us why the House Select Committee investigating January 6 wanted information from Steve Bannon?

JOHNSON: The House panel says it thinks Bannon might have known a lot more about the planning for January 6. Lawmakers pointed out a day before the assault on the Capitol, Steve Bannon said, all hell is going to break loose tomorrow. And Bannon also participated in meetings at the war room at the Willard Hotel before the mob stormed the Capitol on January 6. And even before the 2020 election, Bannon was talking about how former President Donald Trump might refuse to recognize the results.

CHANG: Well, let me ask you - because four months is a bit shorter than what prosecutors were asking for, right? Like, how did the judge arrive at this sentence? Was there an explanation?

JOHNSON: Yeah. Prosecutors were asking for six months, and Bannon wanted probation. But that was a no-go for this judge. Judge Carl Nichols found that defiance of Congress was quite serious and that lawmakers have every reason to investigate what happened on January 6. But he also said Bannon may have gotten legal advice that was overly aggressive or misguided. And that issue, whether Bannon relied on his lawyer and whether a jury should have heard that evidence, will be at the heart of Bannon's appeal. The judge is allowing Bannon to remain free pending appeal. And he imposed a fine of $6,500 for Steve Bannon.

CHANG: Well, I know that you've been at the courthouse. What was the atmosphere like in the courtroom?

JOHNSON: You know, Steve Bannon does a lot of talking outside court, but he said nothing to the judge today. This case was all about whether Bannon flouted the Congress, flouted the subpoena from Congress and deflected by attacking his political enemies and the justice system. Now, that's exactly what his lawyer did in court. The lawyer said the January 6 committee had a partisan political agenda. And he said Bannon had no remorse for his actions. In fact, lawyer David Schoen said Bannon's contempt of Congress could have been a lot worse. But on the other hand, the prosecutor in this case, J.P. Cooney, said Bannon fabricated excuses like bad legal advice and bogus claims of executive privilege, which he said didn't apply to Bannon since Trump never formally asserted the privilege and Bannon hadn't worked in the White House for years. This prosecutor said no one's above the law, and he wanted the judge to deliver that message to other people, too.

CHANG: So I'm wondering, what do you think, Carrie? Like, what kinds of implications could this sentence have for other people facing charges at the moment?

JOHNSON: Well, if an appeals court eventually buys Bannon's argument, that could have a broader impact on the ability of Congress to enforce its subpoenas. But even before this appeal gets underway, we have another case of contempt of Congress right in this courthouse. Next month former Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro is going to trial on charges that he blew off the January 6 committee, too. And this afternoon the committee issued a subpoena to former President Trump as well. So we'll see what happens there in the coming weeks.

CHANG: That is NPR justice correspondent Carrie Johnson at the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C. Thank you, Carrie.

JOHNSON: Happy to be here. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.