On Monday afternoon, Steve Bannon confidently strolled out of a federal courthouse, in Washington, D.C., after surrendering to face charges of contempt of Congress. He was released on his own recognizance and was accompanied by a group of reporters and camera crews who live-streamed every move on Gettr. This social-media platform was created by Donald Trump s supporters. Immediately surrounded by two dozen reporters and camera crews, Bannon declared himself a victim of the “illegitimate Biden regime”; called for the fall of the Chinese Communist Party; predicted that congressional investigators would fail, as Hillary Clinton had in 2016; and said that, in refusing to speak to the House select committee investigating the events of January 6th, he was fighting for “free speech.” Bannon also invoked a conspiracy theory that career civil servants in Washington secretly plot against him, Trump, and other Republican officials, saying, “If the administrative state wants to take me on, bring it on. We are here to fight this. He was surrounded by lawyers, bodyguards and the media. Then he made his way to Constitution Avenue, where a black S.U.V. was waiting for him. He was parked. A few anti-Trump protestors shouted “liar,”‘scumbag, ‘dirtbag walking’ and, repeatedly, ‘traitor. Bannon thanked journalists for their presence, saying, “Really appreciate your guys coming out today.” A flag flew a few hundred yards away on top of the U.S. Capitol.
Bannon’s statements, his demeanor, and his social-media live streaming were no surprise. He was employing the same circus-like tactics that date back to his tenure as Trump’s campaign chief, in 2016, and as White House strategist, in 2017. He seemed to be having fun, above all. Bannon indicated that he intended to use the proceedings to cement himself among Trump supporters, both before and after he surrendered to the court. Some Democrats were also satisfied on Capitol Hill. A staffer told me that Bannon’s defiance showed that the groups that tried to overturn the 2020 election are still active. “The threat to democracy persists. The staffer stated that it has not disappeared. “We’re seeing it in real time.”
The question, of course, is how the public will see the Bannon case. The American democracy is in a perilous and strange period. In the past, the U.S. Capitol was attacked. In 1814, when the building was still under construction, British forces set fire to it. In 1954, supporters of independence for Puerto Rico fired pistols onto the House floor from the public gallery, wounding five members of Congress. And, in 1971, the Weather Underground claimed responsibility for detonating a bomb, which heavily damaged the building, in an effort to force an end to the Vietnam War.
The attack on the U.S. Capitol on January 6th is different because it was carried out by backers of a sitting U.S President who refused —-to accept his removal from power. Last week, the ABC News reporter Jonathan Karl released audio of a March interview with Trump in which the former President defended his demands that Mike Pence reverse the results of the 2020 election. Trump was asked if he ever worried about his Vice-President’s safety as rioters shouted “Hang Mike Pence!”. He replied that he didn’t, and repeated his false claims about the election being stolen. Trump stated, “It’s commonsense, Jon.” “How can you pass on fraudulent votes to Congress?” How do you do that?” Another Democratic Hill staffer stated that such statements are a reason why the select committee must aggressively investigate the January 6th events. “What other option is there?” the staffer inquired. “They tried to kill the Vice-President of the United States.”
Legal experts say that Bannon’s case presents a dilemma for Carl Nichols, the federal judge hearing it. Bannon and Trump allies who declined to testify seem to be betting that Republicans will take control of the House during next year’s midterm elections. The House resolution that established the select committee expires when the current congressional term ends, on January 3, 2023. The first Democratic staffer stated that “there is a real feeling of urgency.”
David Laufman, a former senior Justice Department official and federal prosecutor, told me that the length of federal criminal proceedings varies widely, but it would not be unusual for the Bannon case, from hearings to trial to possible sentencing, to take up to a year. Nichols, who is also responsible for the trials of the January 6th rioters accused, can accelerate the timeline of Bannon’s case if there is a “substantial Federal Interest” in doing so. He must also make it clear that Bannon will be given a fair trial and treated as any other American defendant. As Bannon demonstrated Monday, he will grab at anything that suggests that he is being charged with political views.
Bannon made his first statement after leaving the courthouse on Monday, apparently to those who were watching his live stream. He said, “Don’t let them take your message away.” Americans will need to decide whether Bannon’s theatrics pose a threat to democracy, performative brand, or a combination of both. Laufman, a former federal prosecutor, stated that there is a “substantial Federal Interest” in Bannon’s case moving as quickly as possible. He asked, “What could be more important than an attack against the heart of democracy in America ?”
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