By Jake Kaplan
Here are some of the legal news stories making headlines this week:
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addressed the United States Congress amid the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
- In an impassioned speech, Zelensky asked the United States to increase its pressure on Russia to end the attack. He requested more sanctions, military aid, and funding. Zelensky also repeated calls for imposing a no-fly zone over the country. “Russia has turned the Ukrainian sky into a source of death for thousands of people,” he said. The Biden administration, however, is rejecting Zelensky’s plea for now. “Enforcing a no-fly zone means that you are in combat, you are in a fight with Russia, and that’s one of the things we have said, our president has said, we are not going to do,” Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said.
- Speaking directly to President Joe Biden, Zelensky said, “I wish you to be the Leader of the world. Being the Leader of the world means to be the Leader of Peace.”
- In describing the terrors facing his country, Zelensky recalled difficult moments from American history. “Remember Pearl Harbor—terrible morning of December 7, 1941. When your sky was black from the planes attacking you. Just remember that. Remember September 11th. A terrible day in 2001, when evil tried to turn your cities into a battlefield. When innocent people were attacked. Attacked from the air. In a way no one expected. In a way you could not stop it. Our state experiences this every day. Every night. For three weeks now,” Zelensky said.
- Later that day, Biden said that he thinks Putin “is a war criminal.”
Former Trump White House chief strategist Steve Bannon appeared in court this week in his contempt of Congress criminal case.
- Last September, the January 6th Committee subpoenaed Bannon, seeking information about his communications with former President Donald Trump leading up to January 6th, 2021, and about Bannon’s attendance at Trump team meetings at the Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C. on January 5th, 2021.
- After Bannon refused to comply with the subpoena, the House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt of Congress, and to refer his case to the Department of Justice. In November, Bannon was indicted on two contempt charges.
- This week’s hearing, relating to a pre-trial motion in the case, offered a glimpse into Bannon’s defense. His attorneys argued that they advised Bannon to reject the Committee’s subpoena on the ground that it was at odds with DOJ policy, which they assert affords presidential advisers immunity from congressional subpoenas. However, Bannon no longer worked for the Trump administration by January 6th—Trump fired him in August 2017. At the end of the hearing, District Judge Carl Nichols ordered DOJ to provide him with the internal records relating to the decision to charge Bannon.
- Bannon is not the only former Trump aide facing a potential legal battle for refusing to comply with a congressional subpoena. In December, the House also voted to hold former Trump White House chief of staff Mark Meadows in contempt, and to refer his case to DOJ, as well. It remains to be seen whether DOJ will charge Meadows.
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