Steve Bannon launched into his criminal trial on Monday by attempting to disqualify anyone bothered by his own notorious public behavior from sitting on his jury.
After all, an ultra-polarizing political firebrand like Bannon has plenty of material to work with. Were you shocked by his recent public threat to go “medieval” on his “enemies”? Well, there’s no place on his jury for you.
But the gambit failed. Bannon, once a top adviser to former President Trump, failed to stop the court from qualifying enough jurors to carry out his trial, despite the best efforts of his legal team, which included successfully booting several people who admitted to having a low opinion of Bannon and his antics.
Instead, the first day of Bannon’s trial for two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress ended Monday with 22 potential jurors after eight hours of grueling questioning. The final selection for the required 12 jurors plus two alternates was set to begin on Tuesday morning.
Outside lawyers watching the trial have told VICE News that Bannon is likely to be convicted and face some prison time due to the strength of the evidence against him, although possibly much less than the maximum two years he’s facing.
Bannon was charged after defying two Congressional subpoenas last fall from the Congressional committee investigating the events of Jan. 6. Bannon has argued in public that he couldn’t speak to the committee or hand over documents because he had “executive privilege” from Trump. But experts said he stretched the idea far past its breaking point by refusing to show up at all.
Bannon’s lawyers have repeatedly urged District Court Judge Carl Nichols for a delay, arguing that media coverage of his trial and the Jan. 6 Committee hearings have made it hard to find objective jurors in Washington, D.C.
On Monday, Bannon’s team spent much of the jury-selection process attempting to prove their point, repeatedly asking Judge Nichols to strike individuals who said they were familiar with Bannon’s activities and were not fans.
One juror told Judge Nichols he remembered hearing Bannon declare last week that he would “go medieval” on his enemies.
“Pray for our enemies,” Bannon thundered on his podcast last Tuesday, shortly before his trial was to begin. “We’re going medieval on these people. We’re going savage on these people. So pray for them.”
“I thought that was just a preposterous statement,” the juror said, adding that it would be a “challenge” to be impartial toward Bannon. “I do believe he’s guilty,” the juror said.
In another exchange, Bannon’s attorney argued that a juror should be excluded for saying he felt it was “important that the [Jan. 6] committee get to the bottom” of why the Capitol was ransacked by a mob.
Judge Nichols sided with Bannon, disqualifying the potential juror on the grounds that he wanted to be “cautious.”
Others who were excluded included a Washington DC-based political reporter who said he’d written 28 articles mentioning Bannon and had even used him as a source in the past, and likely would try again sometime in the future.
The reporter, who didn’t give his name, deadpanned to the judge: “It could be very uncomfortable “ to be on the jury in the criminal trial of a guy he might like to try to contact later as a source.
At times, Judge Nichols appeared to be somewhat exasperated with Bannon’s lawyer, M. Evan Corcoran, and denied his attempts to have potential jurors stricken from the list.
One woman, who said she was a lawyer, had seen articles in The Washington Post and New York Times related to Bannon’s case but also said she could be impartial. Corcoran asked for her to be disqualified, but Judge Nichols refused, saying, “She will follow my orders to a tee.”
By the end of the day, 22 people were selected, and the trial was set to move forward with final selection and opening arguments on Tuesday morning.
Leaving the courthouse, Bannon himself appeared, as usual, combative and undaunted.
After a few brief remarks to reporters outside, Bannon was asked whether he thought the jury could be fair.
“I think so, yeah,” Bannon said, before jumping into an SUV with black-tinted windows and speeding away.
Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.