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Jury pool whittled down in Bannon trial after DC residents sound off on Trump ally

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WASHINGTON — After a long day of hearing exactly what fellow D.C. residents thought of him, Steve Bannon thanked potential jurors in his contempt of Congress trial for being “truthful and blunt."

Many did not hold back on speaking their mind about the Trump ally who once served as a White House strategist.

One person said he wouldn't be inclined to believe anything Bannon said because of who he's associated with. Another who wasn't selected for the jury recalled comments he had read in coverage of pretrial hearings, saying he didn't know "what the defense would be."

"I am not a fan of Steve Bannon personally," said a former intern for ex-Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who also was not chosen for the jury.

One person said they were "not a fan" of former President Donald Trump, and called Jan. 6 "very upsetting," adding it was important to get to the bottom of what happened that day.

Another individual, a retiree, said it would be a “challenge” to give a fair shake to a man who promoted the “lie that the election was stolen.”

"I do believe he's guilty," said the man, who said he'd been following news of the Jan. 6 committee closely, and that it was "preposterous" for Bannon to say he was going to turn this case into the "misdemeanor from hell."

Eventually, the field was narrowed to 22 potential jurors following a grueling day of questioning and objections from the defense and prosecution. Each side will get to strike several of the qualified jurors on Tuesday, and 14 jurors will hear the case — 12 jurors and two alternates.

The nearly two-dozen qualified jurors mostly work outside of politics, and lead lives that aren't consumed by political news. Among those in the final 22: a man who worked for an appliance company; a contractor for the city's Covid testing program; a retired research director who listens to NPR and watches both PBS and Fox News; a technician at Georgetown University Hospital; an employee for a non-profit legal aid group; a D.C. Parks & Recreation worker; a driver who transports special needs students; a NASA photographer; an arts dealer; and a film festival juror.

Among those who did not make the cut: the daughter of one of D.C.'s “shadow” senators; a woman who said it would be "difficult to be impartial" about events around Jan. 6 and whose best friend worked at the Justice Department; the daughter of a Democratic congressional aide who described Bannon as a "player in right-wing political circles;" and a barbershop employee whose girlfriend used to work for the FBI who said that Bannon's actions "didn't look good" and that Jan. 6 was a "bad look on the other side."

The list of castoffs also included Eli Yokley, a reporter for Morning Consult, who had previously emailed with Bannon for stories and told the court he'd feel "very uncomfortable" sitting on the jury, given that Bannon is a figure he'd have to cover for his job going forward.

“I’m just very happy," Yokley told NBC News after he learned he'd been dismissed. "Could you imagine?”

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, will preside over the trial.

Bannon was indicted last year after he refused to answer questions from the Jan. 6 committee. He unsuccessfully sought to delay the trial twice, arguing, in part, that there was too much pretrial publicity around the case, including the committee’s televised hearings. Last week, the committee presented evidence that Trump talked to Bannon on the phone twice on Jan. 5, the same day Bannon told his podcast audience “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow."

Nichols said last week he was “hopeful” that enough jurors would be found who haven’t been paying close attention to the Jan. 6 committee hearings and don’t know much about Bannon so they could fairly decide the case.

Bannon, who had stonewalled the committee since October, had a last-minute change of heart this month as he sought to delay the trial, a decision his lawyer attributed to a letter from Trump that waived a purported claim of executive privilege. The Justice Department maintains that Bannon’s offer to testify was nothing more than a “last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability.”

Pretrial hearings largely did not go Bannon’s way, and Nichols knocked out several potential defenses Bannon’s team had raised, leading his lawyer to ask the judge, “What is the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?”

After the jury is seated on Tuesday, Bannon's attorneys will likely lay out which of the limited defenses they intend to pursue.