Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former United States President Donald Trump, appeared before a judge to face criminal contempt charges for defying a House of Representatives committee investigating the January riot at the US Capitol.
Earlier on Monday, Bannon, 67, had turned himself in to the FBI to face the first US criminal charges handed down for refusing to cooperate with the congressional probe of the deadly January 6 attack on the Capitol.
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Speaking to his supporters on Monday, Bannon looked directly into a camera that was live-streaming on the social media website GETTR and urged them to remain focused.
“We’re taking down the Biden regime,” Bannon said, dressed in three black shirts and a green coat. “I want you guys to stay focused … This is all noise.”
Behind him in the crowd stood a man holding a sign that read “Coup Plotter”.
Bannon did not enter a plea during the hearing, according to The Associated Press. 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. He is due back in court on Thursday.
A federal grand jury had indicted Bannon on one count of contempt of Congress for refusing to appear for an interview and a second count for refusing to produce documents.
Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanour punishable by up to one year in jail and a maximum fine of $1,000, the Department of Justice said.
Bannon did not communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on September 24 until October 7 when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due, according to the indictment.
Bannon is one of more than 30 people close to the Republican former president who has been ordered by the US House of Representatives Select Committee to testify about what happened in the run-up to January 6, when thousands of people stormed the Capitol in an attempt to prevent certification of President Joe Biden’s election win.
House investigators hope the action against Bannon will motivate other witnesses, such as former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows, to testify. Meadows had defied a separate subpoena from the committee on November 12.
Bannon had refused, citing Trump’s insistence – already rejected by one judge – that he has a right to keep the requested material confidential under a legal doctrine called executive privilege.
US Representative Adam Schiff, Democratic chair of the House Intelligence Committee and a member of the January 6 panel, said he believed Bannon’s indictment on two counts of contempt of Congress would sway others to drop their defiance.
“It will have a very strong focusing effect on their decision-making,” Schiff told NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday.