A federal jury has convicted former Trump political adviser Steve Bannon of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for intentionally defying a subpoena related to the assault on the U.S. Capitol last year.
Bannon put on no defense in the case, which featured testimony from just two government witnesses, including the deputy staff director of the House Select Committee investigating the events of Jan. 6, 2021.
The Justice Department told jurors the case was black and white – as simple as the words on the subpoena to Bannon last autumn.
“The defendant chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston said in closing arguments.
Bannon had broadcast his defiance on the social media site Gettr, prosecutors said, posting that he told lawmakers he would “NOT comply” on Oct. 8, 2021, after the first committee deadline had passed.
The chief government witness, Kristin Amerling of the Jan. 6 committee, told jurors the panel wanted to know more about Bannon’s contacts with former President Trump, his presence with others at the Willard Hotel in early 2021, and his statement on the War Room podcast that “all hell is going to break loose” a day before the Capitol siege.
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Bannon’s lawyers said he made a mistake with subpoena dates, alleged political bias
The one-time White House chief strategist has become a force in Republican politics, thanks to his right-wing media stardom and his relationship with Trump.
Bannon provided no documents to the Democrat-led committee and failed to show up for a deposition last year, claiming he was barred from appearing because Trump had asserted executive privilege.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols cast doubt on the privilege claim and Trump’s own lawyer suggested that it would not cover Bannon’s wholesale refusal to cooperate with the House Select Committee.
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Defense attorney Evan Corcoran argued Bannon had made a mistake with the subpoena dates, which he called “placeholders.” Corcoran also asserted that government witness Amerling had donated to Democratic political candidates and had been part of the same book club as prosecutor Gaston.
“The thing about bias is that sometimes people become blind to it,” Corcoran told jurors.
Prosecutors said the effort to inject politics in the case amounted to a smokescreen to confuse the jury.
“The only person who is making this case about politics is the defendant and he is doing it to distract and confuse you,” Gaston said. “Don’t let him.”
Bannon had sought to delay the case, making a nearly last-minute offer on the eve of trial to testify before Congress in a public hearing. The Justice Department described that offer as a ploy, “and not even a good one,” prosecutors said, because it did not address the panel’s demand for documents.
Prosecutors left the courthouse quietly without comment after the verdict. In a written statement, U.S. Attorney Matthew Graves said, “Mr. Bannon had an obligation to appear before the House Select Committee to give testimony and provide documents. His refusal to do so was deliberate and now a jury has found that he must pay the consequences.”
Outside the building, Bannon thanked the judge and jurors for their service but blasted members of the House Select Committee for conducting what he called a “show trial.” Bannon also vowed to appeal, saying the legal conflict was nowhere near complete.
His attorney David Schoen pointed out that Judge Nichols had disagreed with legal precedent that cut off some of Bannon’s trial defenses, but said the appeals court could well take another look when the case arrived there. Schoen said it would be a “bullet-proof appeal” and there were an “astounding” number of appellate issues.
House Select Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Mississippi, and vice chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyoming, said in a written statement that “the conviction of Steve Bannon is a victory for the rule of law and an important affirmation of the Select Committee’s work.”
Criminal contempt prosecutions are rare, but so is a decision by a witness to fully reject congressional demands. Bannon faces the prospect of jail time and monetary fines when he is sentenced October 21.
Another key Trump aide, Peter Navarro, is scheduled to go to trial in November on contempt charges. Navarro has pleaded not guilty.