Bannon contempt trial opens with many prospective jurors influenced by House Jan. 6 committee

Bannon contempt trial opens with many prospective jurors influenced by House Jan. 6 committee

The House Jan. 6 committee’s highly publicized hearings have colored jury selection for former Trump aide Stephen K. Bannon‘s contempt of Congress trial that opened Monday with his lawyers wading through a sea of jury candidates tainted by news media coverage of the panel’s probe.

The overwhelmingly liberal constituency in Washington has long put conservative defendants at a disadvantage when they stand trial in the nation’s capital, a dynamic that’s potentially amplified for Mr. Bannon by news coverage of the Jan. 6 committee and the Capitol riot.

Out of dozens of potential jurors interviewed in the courtroom, roughly three said they were not aware of the House Jan. 6 committee. The jury pool included family and friends of Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, scores of eager consumers of left-leaning news media and at least one District resident who admitted he already knew Mr. Bannon was guilty.

Mr. Bannon, 68, faces two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying the committee’s demands that he produce records and appear for a deposition, and he could spend up to two years behind bars if convicted.

He has pleaded not guilty.

Mr. Bannon, who hosts the news and opinion broadcast “War Room: Pandemic,” insists the charges against him are politically motivated and the Democratic-controlled committee has conflicts of interest in discrediting Republicans.

SEE ALSO: House Jan. 6 panel expects subpoenaed Secret Service texts soon, member says

Potential jurors were screened first by questionnaire before being brought before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols for clarifying questions by the prosecution and defense.

A question recurring was about the jurors viewing of the committee’s hearings. Few said they had not watched at least some of the hearings or read coverage of the proceedings in the news, and several said the committee’s work shaped what they thought of Mr. Bannon.

One prospective juror who, describing himself as an “informed, responsible individual,” said he watched all of the committee’s hearings on MSNBC. He told the judge: “I do believe he’s guilty.” 

He was excluded following the remark.

Another prospective juror whose friend worked as a staffer on Capitol Hill said he watched the committee hearings. The judge asked if he had spoken with the staffer about the committee.

“We’re both in D.C.,” the man replied, explaining that the Jan. 6 committee is something nearly everyone in the city discusses with friends.

SEE ALSO: Bannon seeks contempt trial delay due to media coverage of House Jan. 6 hearings

The committee has held a series of hearings spanning June and July to unpack findings from its nearly yearlong investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol. The committee is planning on holding its final hearing in the series with a primetime TV event on Thursday, which could overlap with Mr. Bannon’s trial.

Mr. Bannon’s legal team requested a delay in his trial last month in light of the “media blitz” surrounding the committee’s hearing. Evan Corcoran, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, said the fanfare infringes on his right to a fair trial unblemished by outside findings and presuppositions formed from the public hearings.

“It would be impossible to guarantee Mr. Bannon a fair trial in the middle of much-publicized Select Committee hearings which purport to broadcast investigative ‘findings’ on topics that are referenced in the Indictment,” the filing states.

In the motion, which was denied, Mr. Corcoran pointed out that several of the findings produced by the committee in the hearings specifically referenced Mr. Bannon and matters material to his case without allowing him to respond.

Many of the potential jurors were asked about news coverage they consumed about the hearings and Mr. Bannon’s case.

One potential juror said she consumed coverage of the hearings through a variety of sources spanning PBS, The New York Times, The Washington Post and Fox News. She referenced a video of Mr. Bannon in the committee’s last hearing in which she said Mr. Bannon implied that “[Jan. 6] was going to be an exciting day.”

She said, however, that she was not familiar with the legal requirements for handing over documents and testimony to the committee. She said the was confident she could remain impartial if selected to serve on Mr. Bannon’s trial.

That witness was not excluded from the final pool.

Other potential jurors were asked about their perceptions of Mr. Bannon, and whether they could remain impartial if they held opposing political beliefs.

“I guess my perception of him is he’s a player in right-wing political circles,” one potential juror, whose immediate family member worked for a Democrat on the Hill, said. 

That juror was excluded.

Another juror said he was “not a fan” of Mr. Bannon.