The Judge Presiding Over Bannon Contempt Case Named

( Last week it was reported that a Trump-nominated judge would be presiding over Steve Bannon’s contempt of Congress case. And while that might appear to be good news for Bannon, the judge in question already has a reputation for ruling against Trump and his allies.

Judge Carl Nichols, a former clerk for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas who also held a top spot in the George W. Bush Justice Department, began his tenure on the federal bench dismissing President Trump’s lawsuit to prevent New York State from turning over his financial records to House Democrats.

Ahead of any trial, Nichols will likely have to rule on Bannon’s argument that he is shielded by executive privilege. And Bannon’s defenders are pinning their hopes on Nichols ruling favorably because, during his time in the Bush DOJ, Nichols argued that a president’s close advisors have “absolute immunity” and can ignore congressional subpoenas.

However, most legal experts believe the problem for Steve Bannon is he was not one of former President Trump’s close advisors in January 2021. Bannon left the White House over three years earlier. According to George Washington University School of Law professor Randal Eliason, that gap in time could undercut Bannon’s claim of executive privilege.

Some legal experts believe that even if Bannon had conversations with the President at the time that might be protected, he would still need to appear before the January 6 Select Committee and invoke executive privilege on a question-by-question basis.

According to Eliason, the facts of the case are clear: Bannon was subpoenaed, he received it, but he failed to show. Unless Judge Nichols determines he has legal privilege, Eliason added, “I don’t think he has a leg to stand on.”

This year, Judge Nichols presided over civil defamation cases brought by Dominion voting systems against Rudy Giuliani, Sydney Powell, and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. In a bid to have the lawsuits dismissed, Giuliani, Powell, and Lindell argued their claims that Dominion rigged the 2020 election were protected political speech. But Judge Nichols rejected their arguments and, in an August ruling, permitted the defamation cases to proceed to discovery.

In his decision, Nichols wrote that there is no blanket immunity for political statements. While he conceded that the court does recognize some level of “imaginative expression or rhetorical hyperbole” in political debate, there is no law that “provably false statements cannot be actionable” just because they were made “in the context of an election.”