The federal judge presiding over Steve Bannon’s criminal contempt of Congress trial said Wednesday he would refuse to allow the case to become a “political circus.”
U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols issued that promise as he ruled to bar Bannon’s defense team from asking questions about the motives of individual members of Congress who supported subpoenaing Bannon to testify about matters related to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
“I do not intend for this to become a political case, a political circus, a forum for partisan politics,” Nichols said.
His comments came after Justice Department prosecutors warned that they viewed Bannon’s initial defense in the case to be an attempt to inject politics into the mind of the 14 jurors observing the case. Bannon’s defense attorney, Evan Corcoran, spent his opening argument describing the House as an inherently political body whose members are consumed — first and foremost — with the impact of politics on their actions.
The debate underscores concerns within DOJ about the potential for Bannon to use his trial — for defying a subpoena from the Jan. 6 select committee — to advance his own political brawl with congressional Democrats. On Tuesday, Bannon emerged from the courthouse and disparaged the select committee, describing its chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.), as a “disgrace” and accusing its members of lacking the “guts” to testify against him.
Prosecutors did not raise Bannon’s unusual courthouse comments during their arguments Wednesday morning and it’s unclear whether any jurors in the case may have overheard or passed by while Bannon was speaking.
Bannon’s attorneys contended that their arguments would be within bounds that the court had laid out and that it is reasonable for them to ask questions about the bias of witnesses in the case.
“[Government] counsel seems to be worried about us turning this into a political circus,” Corcoran said. “That’s not our intention and that’s not what we did in the opening.”
The trial resumed Wednesday with continued testimony from Kristin Amerling, the chief counsel of the Jan. 6 select committee. Prosecutors elicited testimony describing the committee’s subpoena to Bannon, why it wanted to talk to him and how the panel viewed his refusal to comply with the subpoena.