By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. prosecutors are due to begin making their case on Tuesday that Steve Bannon, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump, broke the law by defying a subpoena from the congressional investigation into the January 6 attack on Capitol Hill by supporters. of the former president.
Bannon, 68, faces two misdemeanor contempt of Congress charges after he refused to provide testimony or documents to the Democratic-led House select committee last year.
Before federal prosecutors begin their opening arguments, the court must finish selecting a 12-person jury and two alternates, having narrowed a pool of 60 potential jurors to 22.
Bannon had previously tried to persuade US District Judge Carl Nichols to delay his trial, arguing that the committee’s high-profile public hearings could make it difficult to assemble an impartial jury.
The committee presented evidence last week that Bannon spoke to Trump at least twice the day before the Jan. 6, 2021, attack. The committee also played a clip of Bannon saying on a right-wing talk show on Jan. 5 that “Tomorrow all hell will break loose.”
The committee plans to hold another hearing Thursday night, with the goal of reaching a wide television audience. Bannon’s trial is likely still going on at that point and could stretch into next week.
Despite the high-profile nature of the hearings and the accompanying news coverage, many potential jurors told the judge on Monday that they had not followed the case closely.
Bannon expressed some optimism about the state of jury selection as he left the courtroom Monday, after a reporter asked him if he thought the jury might be fair.
“Yes, I do,” he said.
Nichols allowed a woman to remain as a potential juror even though she recalled seeing the clip of Bannon at one of the committee’s recent hearings.
The judge noted that the woman indicated that she had not prejudged the case and added that “the mere fact of media coverage is not enough” to exclude her.
Bannon has argued that the material sought by the committee was protected by a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential, although the judge has ruled that he cannot use this as a defense. Bannon left his White House post in 2017, years before the attack on Capitol Hill.
Trump told Bannon this month that he was giving up any claims of executive privilege.
Bannon reversed course this month and said he wanted to testify before a committee public hearing, nearly 10 months after challenging the subpoena.
There has been no indication of any plan for him to do so, as the committee would likely want him to testify in closed session first to cover a wide range of issues.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch, additional reporting by Kanishka Singh; Editing by Scott Malone and Aurora Ellis)