Steve Bannon, a former top adviser to former US President Donald Trump, has been sentenced to four months in prison for refusing to cooperate with lawmakers investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol.
United States District Judge Carl Nichols imposed the sentence on Friday and also ordered Bannon to pay a fine of $6,500.
Earlier this week, US prosecutors had asked the judge to sentence Bannon to six months in prison, while Bannon’s lawyers had sought probation, after the 68-year-old in July was convicted of two counts of contempt of Congress.
Each count was punishable by 30 days to one year in prison and a fine ranging between $100 to $100,000.
Prosecutor JP Cooney said at Friday’s hearing that Bannon chose to “thumb his nose at Congress” by refusing to testify or provide documents subpoenaed by the congressional committee probing the January 6, 2021, Capitol riot and efforts by Trump’s allies to overturn his 2020 election loss.
He “is not above the law, and that’s what makes this case important”, Cooney said.
Outside the courthouse, Bannon, 68, delivered fiery remarks as protesters at times tried to drown his voice out with shouts of “Traitor!”
“Today was my judgement day by the judge,” Bannon told reporters. “But … on November 8 [midterm elections], they are going to have judgement on the illegitimate Biden regime, and quite frankly, [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi and the entire committee.”
Bannon has two weeks to file his appeal, which his lawyers said they intend to do. If he fails to file it on time, he is required to turn himself in by November 15.
Al Jazeera’s Heidi Zhou-Castro, reporting from Washington, DC, on Friday, said the sentencing was “substantial” and without precedent.
“The judge, in explaining his decision, said … he wanted to send the message that others must be deterred from committing similar crimes and that Bannon was unrepentant until the last moments, and still unrepentant,” Zhou-Castro said.
Bannon was a key adviser to the Republican Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, then served as his chief White House strategist in 2017 before a falling out between them that was later patched up.
Bannon helped articulate the “America First” populism and stout opposition to immigration that helped define Trump’s presidency. He also has played an instrumental role in right-wing media and has promoted right-wing causes and candidates in the US and abroad.
According to the January 6 committee, Bannon spoke with Trump at least twice on the day before the Capitol riot last year, attended a planning meeting at a Washington hotel, and said on his right-wing podcast that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow”.
During his trial, prosecutors called only two witnesses while Bannon’s defence team called none. Bannon opted not to testify.
Bannon’s lawyers said he was not acting in bad faith by refusing to testify, but trying to avoid running afoul of executive privilege objections Trump had raised when Bannon was first served with a committee subpoena last year.
The one-time presidential adviser said he wanted a Trump lawyer in the room, but the committee would not allow it. Many other former White House aides have testified with only their own counsel present.
Bannon had been fired from the White House in 2017 and was a private citizen when he was consulting with the then-president before the January 6 riot. His lawyers have said they will appeal his conviction.
Meanwhile, the House committee’s leaders have called Bannon’s conviction a victory for the rule of law. Bannon had sought to portray the criminal charges as politically motivated, lashing out at Biden and Attorney General Merrick Garland, while saying, “They took on the wrong guy his time.”
The Democratic-led committee has sought testimony from dozens of people in Trump’s orbit.
In addition to Bannon, prosecutors have charged former Trump White House adviser Peter Navarro with contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the same committee, with a November 17 trial date set. Navarro has pleaded not guilty.
Friday’s sentencing does not end Bannon’s legal troubles.
He was indicted in New York state in September on charges of money laundering and conspiracy, with prosecutors accusing him of deceiving donors giving money to help build Trump’s promised wall along the US-Mexico border.
Bannon, who pleaded not guilty, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted on those charges. Trump pardoned Bannon last year on similar federal charges.