After two days of testimony, the prosecution against Stephen K. Bannon in his criminal contempt of Congress case rested.
The government only called two witnesses in order to present what it described as a simple case where Mr. Bannon refused to give evidence and documents after being served with a subpoena by the committee.
In remarks outside of the courthouse, Mr. Bannon returned to disparaging Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Jan. 6 panel and was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, for not showing up for the trial.
“Why does Bennie Thompson not defend his committee?” Mr. Bannon inquired before the crowd of journalists and hecklers outside. “Why isn’t he here personally?” Is he actually suffering from COVID?” Has anyone checked ?”
Mr. Bannon is being tried for refusing to submit documents to the Jan.6 committee and for taking a deposition during its investigation of the Jan. 6 2021, riot in the Capitol.
Mr. Bannon claimed that the documents and testimony he requested were covered by former President Donald Trump’s executive privilege claims. These were at the time the topic of an ongoing court battle.
The prosecution must establish beyond reasonable doubt that Mr. Bannon failed to obey a subpoena for pertinent information.
The prosecution started its argument Tuesday, after a long jury selection process. It also had a dispute over important evidence. Kristin Amerling was called by the Jan.6 committee’s deputy director and chief counsel to start outlining their case.
Ms. Amerling was the one who advised the committee in issuing Mr. Bannon a subpoena. She testified about the urgent nature of the subpoena. The jury was told by her that there were strict deadlines within which the committee sought to obtain information from witnesses.
Ms. Amerling testified also that the committee wrote a series letters to Robert Costello (at the time Mr. Bannon’s attorney), indicating its deadlines for submitting documents and appearing.
Mr. Costello explained to his client the reasons he was unable to obey the subpoena, which was based upon Mr. Trump’s executive privilege claims.
Evan Corcoran is Mr. Bannon’s lawyer. He said that the correspondence was a “negotiation” on the deadlines of the committee, which his client believed to be flexible.
Mr. Bannon’s claim of executive privilege was rejected by the committee. Ms. Amerling informed the jury that Mr. Bannon had been warned repeatedly that contempt would result if he didn’t comply with subpoenas.
The defense introduced into evidence a July 9th, 2017 letter that Mr. Trump had sent to Mr. Bannon. This was shortly before the trial started. In it the ex-president gave his consent for Mr. Bannon’s testimony before the committee. He also waived his executive privilege claim.
The jury was instructed by Carl Nichols, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols that the letter did not prove that Mr. Bannon had initially refused to comply with the subpoena.
The prosecution called Stephen Hart, a FBI Special Agent from Stephen Hart to testify on Wednesday. Hart was present at a conference in November last year where Mr. Costello advised that the government should not prosecute him. Bannon.
Mr. Hart stated that Mr. Costello didn’t suggest that Mr. Bannon shouldn’t be prosecuted on the basis of claims that the deadlines for the committee were fungible, or that Mr. Bannon was still in negotiations with the committee.
Mr. Hart testified also about Mr. Bannon’s two posts to Gettr, in which Mr. Bannon linked directly to Rolling Stone articles and Daily Mail articles. The prosecution tried to prove that Mr. Bannon wouldfully ignored the committee even though he claimed that he was still working on the deadline.
In cross-examination Mr. Corcoran claimed that the posted links were to articles from outside news outlets and not public statements made by his client.
The defense team of Mr. Bannon has tried to prove that his charges are political motivated.
On Tuesday Mr. Bannon’s legal team used its opening statements in order to portray the committee (all of whom were elected by Democrats) as a partisan tool being used to attack political opponents.
“Politics are the lifeblood of Congress,” Evan Corcoran, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer said. Every decision is affected by politics. It is the currency of Congress .”
Before the jury could enter the courtroom for the second witness testimony, Amanda Vaughn, Assistant U.S. attorney, raised concerns with U.S. Judge Carl Nichols regarding what she claimed were attempts of Mr. Bannon’s defense team paint the motives behind the House Jan.6 Committee as politically motivated. She said that arguments before the juries should not be allowed.
Judge Nichols decided that Mr. Bannon’s defense team may inquire about witnesses’ biases in courtroom but not about those who are outside the courtroom.
” There may be questions that are too broad,” the judge stated before assuring that the prosecution would investigate the questioning witnesses.
” Judge Nichols stated that he didn’t want this case to be a political one or political circus.
However, Ms. Amerling was not cross-examined by the defense team. Mr. Corcoran asked Ms. Amerling to testify that she had previously worked with Assistant U.S. attorney Molly Gaston when she was on staff for Rep. Henry Waxman (California Democrat) more than a decade back.
Ms. Gaston was one of two prosecutors involved in the Bannon trial.
Ms. Amerling stated that the pair have been members of Mr. Waxman’s book club, which has a majority of former Democratic staffers from Capitol Hill.
The defense team also examined Ms. Amerling’s nearly two-decade-long career on Capitol Hill staffers. Ms. Amerling stated that she worked with Democratic legislators throughout her professional career, and donated personally to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
Ms. Amerling told the FBI she wasn’t partisan.
Ms. Amerling stated that she didn’t have a relationship with Ms. Gaston, and had stopped attending the book club for more than one year.
Mr. Bannon has pleaded guilty to two charges of contempt. If convicted of both charges, he could be sentenced to up to 2 years in prison.