Bannon declines to testify in contempt of Congress trial
WASHINGTON — Trump ally Steve Bannon declined to testify and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his contempt of Congress trial on Thursday, instead arguing the judge should just acquit him, saying prosecutors hadn’t proven their case.
The decision to forgo calling any witnesses in Bannon’s defense cleared the way for closing arguments to begin Friday. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols didn’t immediately rule on the motion for an acquittal and the case could end up in the jury’s hands Friday.
One of Bannon’s lawyers, David Schoen, contended they should able to call Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, the Democratic chairman of the House Jan. 6 committee which had subpoenaed Bannon’s testimony, to question him under oath instead of the congressional lawyer who testified during the trial. The judge has previously ruled against that request.
In court, Bannon nodded and smiled as another of his lawyers, Evan Corcoran, argued that the timing of when Bannon could comply with the subpoena was flexible and said testimony from the House panel’s chief lawyer, Kristin Amerling, had made clear “that the dates were in flux.”
Corcoran said that “no reasonable juror could conclude that Mr. Bannon refused to comply.”
Bannon’s team also told the judge that Bannon saw no point in testifying since the previous rulings had gutted his planned avenues of defense. Schoen said Bannon “understands that he would be barred from telling the true facts.”
Corcoran then rested the defense case.
Throughout the trial Corcoran has tried to establish that the deadline for the
onetime Trump strategist to appear before the House committee investigating the Capitol riot was flexible as long as the two sides were on negotiating terms.
In opening statements Corcoran argued that the charges against Bannon were politically motivated and that the former adviser was engaged in good-faith negotiations with the congressional committee when he was charged. “No one ignored the subpoena,” Corcoran told the jury.
In reality, Corcoran said, one of Bannon’s previous lawyers, Robert Costello, contacted an attorney for the House committee to express some of Bannon’s concerns about testifying.
“They did what two lawyers do. They negotiated,” Corcoran said, adding Bannon and his legal team believed the dates of the subpoena were “flexible.”
Bannon was in an unofficial capacity to Trump at the time of the insurrection on Jan. 6, 2021, and is charged with defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the aftermath of the 2020 election and the events leading up to the deadly riot.
Bannon was indicted in November on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress. Each count carries a minimum of 30
days of jail and as long as a year behind bars upon conviction.
The Justice Department rested its case Wednesday after calling just two witnesses: Amerling and FBI special agent Stephen Hart. The prosecution’s case was dominated by testimony from Amerling, who explained the extent to which the committee tried to engage Bannon and the timeline leading up to the missed deadline.
During cross-examination Corcoran asked Amerling whether it was common for witnesses to appear before a congressional committee several weeks after the deadline date on a subpoena. Amerling answered “yes,” but added only “when witnesses are cooperating with the committee.”
Amerling said Bannon was uncooperative from the start, so there was no such leeway.
The committee heard nothing from Bannon until after the first deadline had passed, at which point his lawyer sent a letter to the committee stating that Bannon was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege and would not be providing documents or appearing.
The committee responded in writing that Trump’s claim was invalid.