Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress
WASHINGTON (CN) — A jury found Steve Bannon guilty Friday on both criminal contempt charges for failing to comply with a subpoena from the Jan. 6 committee.
The Justice Department indicted Bannon on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress in November following a referral from the House committee investigating last year’s insurrection at the Capitol. Collectively, the charges carry the possibility of two years behind bars for the erstwhile adviser to former President Donald Trump.
Bannon received the subpoena in September, with the committee seeking documents and testimony concerning his knowledge of the events leading up to the insurrection. On Jan. 5, 2021, the eve of the riot that would prove deadly, Bannon had told listeners of his podcast that “hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
After Bannon failed to meet the committee’s document deadlines and appear for a deposition, the committee warned him they viewed his noncompliance as contempt of Congress. When Bannon still did not show any effort to comply, the committee referred the case to the Justice Department.
Bannon pleaded not guilty to the two misdemeanor counts in November.
During his weeklong trial, Bannon’s defense team claimed Bannon did not comply with the subpoena because he and his then-lawyer Robert Costello thought his testimony fell under executive privilege.
Bannon’s defense team claimed their defense was stymied by rulings from U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, who ruled out multiple potential defenses including the privilege claim. Nichols also prevented members of Congress from being called to the stand previous to the trial’s start.
With potential strategies ruled out, Bannon’s lawyers decided no defense was the best route.
“We didn’t put on a defense in the case,” Evan Cocoran, an attorney for Bannon said during closing arguments.
Corcoran said that conclusion was made based on an assessment of the government’s case. Describing their client as “handcuffed,” the defense said Bannon wanted to testify but would have been “barred from telling the facts,” so they decided against it.
Bannon’s lawyers did try to combat the government’s case by attacking the credibility of their witnesses. Corcoran claimed Jan. 6 committee chief counsel Kristin Amerling went after Bannon because she was not getting her way. He also claimed Amerling was biased because she previously made political donations to Democrats and had once attended a book club with one of the prosecutors.
A veteran of Capitol Hill, Amerling testified that she has worked for both Republicans and Democrats, and that her donations and book club affiliation had no effect on her work.
The government claimed the case was straightforward and, while simple, still of incredible importance.
“Our government only works if people show up and play by the rules,” prosecutor Molly Gaston said during closing arguments.
Amerling and FBI special agent Stephen Hart testified for the government, which also created a timeline with testimony from Amerling of the committee’s failed attempts to gain testimony from Bannon that led up to the DOJ referral. Amerling testified that Bannon’s attorney accepted the subpoena and never asked for an extension or provided a valid reason for noncompliance.
The government summed up the case as Bannon choosing Trump over the rule of law.
“The defendant chose allegiance with Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” Gaston said.
While Bannon’s lawyers argued the adviser was negotiating with the committee, the government said Bannon’s social media posts made clear he did not plan on complying.
Politics became a point of contention during the trial. Nichols warned against the trial becoming a “political circus.” Bannon, on the other hand, claimed the charges were politically motivated and, despite not testifying, took the opportunity to dive into rants about politics outside the courthouse each day. The government said there was no political motive in enforcing the law.
“There’s nothing political about enforcing the law,” Gaston said.