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What is a “defence of public authority” that Steve Bannon aims to use in court?


Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon may be considering a “defense of public authority” in his contempt of Congress lawsuit. Bannon is pictured arriving for a hearing at the United States District Court in Washington, DC on March 16, 2022.
Winning McNamee/Getty

Steve Bannon may be looking to point the finger at former President Donald Trump employing a “public authority defense” in his upcoming contempt of Congress trial.

Bannon, the former adviser to Trump, will go on trial in July. He was indicted last November for refusing to comply with a subpoena from the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. Documents filed in court on Friday suggest Bannon’s defense could argue that he is blameless because he acted on Trump’s authority while refusing the subpoena.

Trump asserted “executive privilege” against Jan. 6 subpoenas despite leaving last year. Bannon cited Trump’s assertion as the reason he refused to comply with the committee. However, President Joe Biden denied Trump’s request for privilege, and the courts were unswayed by related arguments by lawyers for the former president seeking to block the committee from obtaining documents from the National Archives.

On Friday, the Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a motion to restrain Bannon from using evidence in support of the “public authority defense” and related “estoppel entrapment defense.” The motion noted that Bannon “had not been subpoenaed in connection with his tenure as an executive branch official” and had not been ordered by Trump to “engage in complete non-compliance” with the committee at all. arguing to exclude the evidence.

The DOJ defines several types of “defence of public authority.” One involves a defendant claiming to have honestly but mistakenly believed that he “understood the crimes charged in the indictment in cooperation with the government”.

In another, the defendants claim they “knowingly committed a criminal act, but did so in reasonable reliance on the authorization of a government official to engage in unlawful activity”, although the DOJ points out that the defense can only be used “when the government official in question had real authority, as opposed to mere apparent authority.”

“Entrapment by estoppel” is another type of “defence of public authority”, defined as an argument that the government made mistakes that convinced a defendant that they were acting within the law, in assuming that the defendant “was reasonable in believing that his conduct was sanctioned by the government. »

The second definition, making Trump the “government official” who granted “authorization” for illegal activities, was also used as a defense strategy by several of those accused of crimes related to the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.

Defense has so far not been successful as a strategy for those involved in the riot. Dustin Thompson, one of many Capitol rioters who claims Trump “ordered” them on Capitol Hill, was convicted on Thursday of obstruction of Congress charges and could face 20 years in prison.

Others who have pointed the finger at Trump include Jacob Chansley, the so-called “QAnon Shaman” who was convicted on multiple counts and sentenced to 41 months in prison last November. Earlier this week, legal expert Neama Rahmani said Newsweek that blaming Trump was “really the only viable defense” for those charged with the Capitol attack.

In addition to Bannon, contempt of Congress allegations have been directed at several other members of Trump’s inner circle who have refused to comply with committee subpoenas, including his former chief of staff Mark Meadows and his former trade adviser. Peter Navaro. It is unclear whether they would choose to employ a “defence of public authority” if they were also to be tried.

Bannon pleaded not guilty. A conviction for contempt of Congress carries a maximum fine of $100,000 and up to 12 months in prison.

Newsweek contacted Bannon’s attorney Robert Costello for comment.




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