Steve Bannon seeks to overturn conviction for defying Jan. 6 committee

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Lawyers for Steve Bannon made their case before a federal appeals court Thursday in a bid to overturn the former Trump adviser's four-month prison sentence for his refusal to cooperate with a subpoena from the House Jan. 6 committee.

“This case is as clear as day that the conviction has to be overturned," Bannon attorney David Schoen told reporters outside the federal courthouse in Washington, D.C., after arguments before a three-judge panel.

Summarizing the arguments he made before the judges, Schoen said that former President Donald Trump had invoked executive privilege which prevented Bannon from complying with the House subpoena and that even if the privilege had been improperly invoked, Bannon was relying on the advice of his lawyer who told him he couldn’t testify before the committee.

“Mr. Bannon acted as his lawyer told him to act, and in the only way he understood the law permitted him to act with respect to the subpoena. He didn’t ignore the subpoena,” Schoen told reporters.

Bannon did not attend Thursday’s arguments, but notable faces in the courtroom included Molly Gaston and J.P. Cooney from special counsel Jack Smith’s office. Gaston and Cooney had previously prosecuted the case against Bannon before moving over to the special counsel’s office.

Bannon was subpoenaed in Smith’s grand jury investigation into Jan. 6 and Trump’s efforts to stay in office, two sources familiar with the matter told NBC News in June.

Schoen expressed hope Thursday that the panel would rule in Banon's favor, but acknowledged to reporters that he may need to appeal the case to the full D.C. Circuit “and then go to the Supreme Court if we don’t succeed there.”

Bannon was sentenced in October of last year to four months in federal prison along with a $6,500 fine, but U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols suspended the sentence until the appeals process plays out. He was charged with contempt of Congress for defying congressional subpoenas from the Jan. 6 committee, which led to his conviction on two counts in July of last year after a jury trial.

Bannon, who hosts the “Bannon’s War Room” podcast, has argued that he should have been permitted to invoke executive privilege and other defenses before the jury in the trial.

“The lower court erred by prohibiting Mr. Bannon from putting his defenses before the jury in this case, in violation of his rights under the 5th and 6th Amendments to the United States Constitution,” Schoen wrote in a brief to the court in May.

“Bannon was barred from putting on any evidence or argument that he believed he responded to the subpoena in the only way the law permitted once executive privilege was invoked, and that he acted in the manner his experienced lawyer directed him that he had to act as a matter of law,” Schoen added at the time.

After Bannon’s sentencing, Schoen argued that his client had followed the advice of counsel at the time in snubbing the Jan. 6 committee’s subpoenas and argued that Bannon respected a claim of executive privilege from Trump — a claim prosecutors had disputed.

“Quite frankly, Mr. Bannon should make no apology,” Schoen said after Bannon’s sentencing last year, adding: “No American should make an apology for the way Mr. Bannon proceeded in this case.”

“There is nothing here to deter. There is nothing here to punish,” he said at the time.

Critics have argued that Bannon's executive privilege claim was nullified since he was longer working in the White House.

Schoen has pushed back on that assertion.

"The Justice Department has said over and over again, that it doesn’t matter whether the person is a currently employed, just as it doesn’t matter whether he’s the president, or former president," he told reporters on Thursday.

Bannon served in the White House during the first seven months of Trump’s presidency.

The House Jan. 6 committee disbanded at the beginning of this year without receiving information from Bannon.

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