WASHINGTON (AP) — Longtime Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon appeared before a judge to face criminal contempt charges for defying a subpoena from Congress' Jan. 6 committee, then declared combatively outside court that he was "taking on the Biden regime" in fighting the charges.
Bannon did not enter a plea Monday and is due back in court on Thursday for the next phase of what could be the first high-level trial in connection with January's insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
Combative outside court, he said he was "going on the offense" against the attorney general, the speaker of the House and President Joe Biden. He declared, "This is going to be a misdemeanor from hell for Merrick Garland, Nancy Pelosi and Joe Biden."
The 67-year-old Bannon surrendered earlier in the day to FBI agents. He was indicted on Friday on two federal 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.
Federal 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. 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 Republican former President Trump was on the sidewalk as a crowd waited for Bannon to leave. Some in the crowd shouted expletives at him and called him a traitor, and one man paraded around with a sign that read: "Clowns are not above the law."
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 Trump has escalated his legal battles to withhold documents and testimony about the insurrection. Bannon and Meadows are key witnesses for the committee because they both were in close touch with Trump around the time of the Jan. 6 Capitol attack.
If the House votes to hold Meadows in contempt, that recommendation would also be sent to the Justice Department for a possible indictment.
Meadows was Trump's top aide at the end of his presidency and was one of several people who pressured state officials to try and overturn the results of the 2020 election won by Democrat Biden. Bannon promoted the Jan. 6 protests on his podcast after predicting the day before that "all hell is going to break loose."
The committee said that Bannon urged Trump to focus on the congressional certification and was present at an event at the Willard Hotel on Jan. 5 in which Trump allies tried to persuade members of Congress to vote against the results.
Bannon's lawyer, David Schoen, said his client didn't appear before Congress because he was told by another lawyer not to come after Trump claimed executive privilege would apply.
"Mr. Bannon is a lay person. When the privilege has been invoked by the purported holder of privilege, he has no choice but to withhold the documents. You can't put the genie back in the bottle," he said. "Mr. Bannon acted as his lawyer counseled him to do by not appearing and by not turning over documents in this case. He didn't refuse to comply."
Schoen also decried the Justice Department's decision to prosecute Bannon, claiming it runs counter to Attorney General Garland's statement of commitment to equal justice under the law.
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 didn't communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on Sept. 24 until Oct. 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.