Judge puts limits on public disclosure of evidence in Steve Bannon's case
- US District Judge Carl Nichols issued a protective order
- The judge will permit the parties to cite evidence in court filings
- Bannon's team and the government disagreed on whether a protective order should be issued
A federal judge dismissed Steve Bannon's challenge to the Justice Department's request for restrictions on public disclosure of evidence the government handed over to him in his case.
Several media outlets had also objected to the Justice Department's proposed restrictions.
US District Judge Carl Nichols issued a protective order that primarily adopted the government's proposals for limiting the types of evidence from the case that could be shared publicly. Nichols is presiding over the criminal contempt proceedings the department has brought against the ex-adviser to former President Donald Trump.
According to a source close to Bannon, the judge's decision included some provisions that Bannon's team had requested. The judge will permit the parties to cite evidence in court filings, making it publicly available. (In previous court filings, the Justice Department proposed a similar provision.) Bannon's team will also be able to challenge specific documents that are covered by the protective order if they believe they should be made public.
Bannon, who has pleaded not guilty to the department's charge of contempt of Congress, will stand trial on July 18.
Bannon's team and the government disagreed on whether a protective order should be issued over materials that would emerge during the discovery process. The public had a right to know the details of the case, according to Bannon's team. The government argued that the records should be kept private, claiming that Bannon intended to "try this case in the media rather than in court", and that making documents public before trial could influence witness testimony.
On Friday, Nichols ordered that records discovered during the discovery process be kept under seal. The order does not apply to publicly available documents or records obtained by Bannon's team outside of the discovery process.
CNN was one of several news organisations to object to the proposed protective order.
The case was brought after Bannon refused to cooperate with the House investigation on January 6, and the Justice Department received a referral from the House.
Bannon's legal team said at a court hearing on Tuesday that they would like to share internal congressional communications about the subpoena the House committee issued the Trump ally on January 6 with the public, among other things.
"We do believe the committee's discussions about Mr. Bannon's subpoena ... is the business of the public," David Schoen, an attorney for Bannon, said at the hearing. The Justice Department had said in court filings that Bannon was seeking "to abuse criminal discovery to try this case in the media rather than in court."
Nichols will almost certainly have to resolve additional pre-trial discovery disputes. Bannon's team has also hinted at an effort to obtain internal documents from Congress, in addition to records related to the Justice Department's decision to charge him, beyond what has already been handed over to him. Prosecutors have indicated that they do not believe Bannon has a right to those documents.