Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon found guilty of refusing to testify at January 6 panel

Deliberations began shortly before noon Friday, after prosecutors closed their case with a simple statement to the jury. « The defendant, » said Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston, « chose allegiance to Donald Trump over respect for the law. »

The claim was part of what Gaston told jurors was a ‘simple’ case about Bannon’s refusal to comply with a Jan. 6 subpoena from the select committee, which sought his testimony last year about his efforts. to help Trump overturn the 2020 election results.

Bannon’s defense leveled a brazen and often tense series of arguments in an effort to win an acquittal or a hung jury for their client. Defense attorney Evan Corcoran even posted a series of letters in an attempt to convince jurors that committee chairman Bennie Thompson’s (D-Miss.) signature on Bannon’s subpoena may have been forged.

“You may wonder if one of these things is different from the other,” Corcoran said. “It could be a doubt as to the case of the government, a reasonable doubt as to whether President Thompson signed this subpoena. … If you have any doubt in your mind, you have to give Steve Bannon the edge.

The House Select Committee had hoped to ask Bannon about his prediction on his « War Room: Pandemic » podcast that « all hell is going to break loose » in Washington on Jan. 6, as well as his conversations informing Trump of his efforts to remain in power despite the defeat in the elections. The committee also recently learned, via Mother Jones, of an audio recording of Bannon a few days before Election Day, suggesting that Trump would declare victory on election night even if he lost and use it as part of a strategy aimed at casting doubt on the integrity of the vote.

The committee also wants to question Bannon about his role in a so-called war room that Trump allies set up at the Willard Hotel in the days leading up to Jan. 6, which has become a command center for those strategizing. to nullify the election results.

Last week, days before his trial began, Bannon made a belated offer to testify before the select committee, citing an agreement by Trump to « waive » executive privilege over the testimony. The select committee and the Justice Department argued that Trump never claimed privilege over Bannon’s testimony in the first place and that Trump’s ability to do so, as a former president, would have been limited, in particular. particular because the President-in-Office had affirmatively waived it months earlier. The panel, however, welcomed Bannon’s offer and said it would engage with him if he submitted documents first. The committee also stressed that his offer did not absolve him of his previous contempt.

After Corcoran referenced those alleged efforts earlier this month to comply, the prosecution appeared to take that overture to tie Bannon even more closely to Trump, who is widely unpopular with residents of Washington, DC.

« How convenient that the former president chose to give the defendant an excuse for his defiance, » prosecutor Amanda Vaughn told jurors. « The defendant stood by Donald Trump and that choice, the deliberate decision to stand by former President Trump, is a choice – the deliberate decision to defy the subpoena. »

As Bannon’s defense team worked to instill doubt in the minds of jurors on Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols intervened twice to block certain lines of argument after prosecutors opposed.

Their other arguments included a claim that the main witness for the prosecution, chief counsel for the January 6 committee Kristin Amerling, had signed a « proof of service » document related to the subpoena before the attorney for Bannon actually agreed to accept it.

Corcoran also reiterated claims that Amerling had a questionable relationship with Gaston, who served with her on former Rep. Henry Waxman’s (D-Calif.) committee 15 years ago and later joined a book club. for Waxman veterans.

“Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against book clubs… but why did Ms. Amerling try to play down her connection to the prosecutor? asked the defense attorney.

And Corcoran complained that the trial lasted a week, even though prosecutors only called two witnesses, even though it was the defense team’s voluminous objections and requests for complex legal rulings that largely prolonged the delay. In fact, it was Bannon’s team that urged the court to postpone closing arguments until Friday after prosecutors requested a more expedited schedule a day earlier.

At its core, Corcoran argued, the case was about politics because Amerling was a longtime Democratic staffer.

« You might wonder why Mrs. Amerling wanted to give the example of Steve Bannon? » asked the defense attorney. « He’s got a show, a podcast on political topics that has a very large following and it’s an election year. »

As the defense finished its argument, Corcoran raised a flurry of claims about politics impacting the case and argued that it was part of an effort to « silence the opposition ». These claims prompted a series of objections from the prosecution, which Nichols supported.

« Right now the president, the Senate, Congress are in the hands of one party, the Democrats, » the defense attorney said, drawing sustained objection.

« It’s OK, » Corcoran said.

Prosecutors, anticipating the defense’s claims of political persecution, had preemptively urged the jury to ignore them.

“The only person making this case for politics is the defendant,” Gaston said. “There is nothing political about finding out how January 6 happened and making sure it never happens again.”

Vaughn ridiculed the defense’s efforts to point out issues such as the book club the prosecutor and witness sometimes attended.

« I don’t know what courtroom Mr. Corcoran was in, but all I learned from this testimony is that Ms. Amerling and Ms. Gaston are book club dropouts, » Vaughn joked. .

It’s unclear whether this case — which unfolded after a series of tough and complex legal rulings by Nichols — has ramifications for another contempt of Congressional lawsuit against Peter Navarro, a former White House trade adviser to Trump. who also defied a Jan. 6 Select Committee subpoena. Two other committee witnesses, former Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows and longtime Trump aide Dan Scavino, were also scorned by the House, but the Justice Department declined to prosecute them. .

Bannon’s lawyers said they hoped to present a stronger case for their client, but Nichols effectively ruled out that in deciding they could not argue to the jury that Bannon was relying on the advice of an attorney. when he did not attend a scheduled deposition last. October and did not turn over any of the documents requested by the January 6 House panel.

Nichols also dismissed claims by the defense team that Bannon’s lack of a substantive response to the subpoena was excused by Trump’s claims that he was encroaching on matters covered by executive privilege.

The House panel argued that Trump never properly asserted such privilege and that in any event he would not have justified Bannon’s outright defiance by not showing up for a deposition and completely rejecting the document request.

Nichols said an appeals court precedent from a similar contempt of Congress case, decided 61 years ago, excluded most of the defense that Bannon’s attorneys said they wanted to present. That left the former White House adviser with only a slim claim to present to the jury: that he didn’t think the subpoena deadlines were firm, but rather an invitation to negotiate.

Nichols, a Trump appointee, has repeatedly said that in his view the six-decade-old DC Circuit decision was likely incorrect by today’s legal standards, but as a trial court judge, he was obliged to follow the precedent until he was overthrown.

Ultimately, the jury heard testimony and saw exhibits detailing arguments Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello, made to the House panel last year that Bannon was in fact legally barred from complying. at subpoena until Trump’s privilege issues are resolved in court or settled with the Committee.

Nichols allowed this evidence to show the jury the back and forth that might have informed Bannon’s assessment of whether he had definitely snubbed the committee, but the judge told the jury that the validity of the executive privilege was irrelevant to what they had to consider.

Bannon, a former Goldman Sachs partner and top executive of the right-wing website Breitbart, served as a top adviser to Trump during his 2016 presidential campaign, then joined the White House staff as chief strategist . Trump fired him after about seven months on the job, following a series of clashes and turf battles with other aides and amid suspicions he was leaking details of internal deliberations to reporters.

Bannon had been absent from his White House post for more than three years at the time of the 2020 election and Trump’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to overturn the results in courts, state legislatures and Congress. However, he remained in touch with Trump during this time, serving as an informal adviser.

House committee members said Bannon’s claim for executive privilege was frivolous since he was not a White House or high-level official at the time of the Jan. 6 events. At least one Justice Department legal opinion has suggested the privilege could extend to outside advisers, but no court has ever upheld such a claim.


Back to top button