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Jury selection starts for Steve Bannon's trial. He's Donald Trump's former adviser

Supporters of former White House senior advisor Stephen Bannon rally outside the United States District Court House during  jury selection in his trial on July 18, 2022 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla
Getty Images
Supporters of former White House senior advisor Stephen Bannon rally outside the United States District Court House during jury selection in his trial on July 18, 2022 in Washington, DC.

Updated July 18, 2022 at 6:22 PM ET

Dozens of prospective jurors filed into a federal courthouse just down the street from the U.S. Capitol on Monday on the first day of the trial of former Donald Trump political adviser Steve Bannon, who's charged with contempt of Congress for flouting subpoenas from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 insurrection.

They were asked a lot of questions about Bannon, a conservative media star, such as whether they've written or said anything about him, and also about the committee, which is expected to wrap up its summer hearings on its investigation into the Capitol attack this week.

As spectators and press crammed into the courthouse for the high-profile case, the potential jurors patiently waited in hallways, reading their phones, or books or magazines.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols said the final phase of jury selection would conclude Tuesday morning, when lawyers pare down the pool of 22 prospective jurors to 12 jurors and two alternates. Then, opening statements will begin in what appears to be a speedy trial.

"You are not permitted to discuss this case with anyone," the judge said as he excused the smaller group of possible jurors. He asked them to avoid reading anything overnight about the Bannon prosecution and told them not to tweet, text, blog or email.

The whole government case could take just one day, as prosecutors have only a few witnesses, including an FBI agent and the general counsel of the House Select Committee on January 6th. It is still not clear if Bannon will testify in his defense.

Bannon faces two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for blowing off the House panel's demands for documents and testimony about the Jan. 6, 2021, siege on the Capitol. Trump supporters, including members of extremist groups, broke through barricades that day with the aim of overturning the 2020 presidential election, which Trump lost.

Bannon has said that when he did not honor the subpoenas he was following orders from Trump, who asserted executive privilege. But Nichols, a Trump appointee, didn't see it that way.

First, Trump's lawyer says that isn't what happened and Trump did not assert the privilege when it came to Bannon. The privilege is supposed to protect confidential conversations among people in the government, but Bannon had been gone from the White House for over a year.

Also, President Joe Biden has said that the privilege should not shield information about the Capitol rioters or those who may have helped plot the worst attack on the government since the war of 1812.

Even though he didn't comply with the subpoena, the Jan. 6 committee has still shown footage of Bannon and discussed him at its hearings this summer.

The House panel found phone records suggesting Bannon had at least two calls with Trump on Jan. 5, 2021, the day before the attack. The panel wants to dig into remarks he made on his podcast after the first conversation, when he said that "all hell is going to break loose tomorrow" and called Jan. 6 "game day."

The committee also is looking into whether he was more involved in the planning of the riot, which left more than 140 law enforcement officers injured and several people dead in the days that followed.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Carrie Johnson is a justice correspondent for the Washington Desk.