Attorneys for Steve Bannon call no witnesses in contempt trial; final arguments set for Friday

WASHINGTON – Attorneys for Steve Bannon called no defense witnesses in the contempt trial of the former White House strategist charged with defying a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Capitol attack, paving the way for final arguments in the case Friday.

Attorney Evan Corcoran announced the defense would rest after informing the court that Bannon had elected not to testify.

The jury was expected to begin deliberating immediately after final arguments. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols dismissed the jury for the day Thursday after reporting that one of the jurors had been excused for undisclosed health reasons, leaving the panel with nine men and four women.

Two alternates had been seated during jury selection earlier this week to account for such developments. 

Bannon’s decision not testify, attorney David Shoen told the judge, was made on the advice of counsel since the court had earlier barred the Bannon team from asserting a number of defenses, including that Bannon was exempted from complying with the subpoena because he believed former President Donald Trump had invoked executive privilege.

Shoen said Bannon “wanted to testify publicly under oath,” but decided against it because he would “be barred from telling the true facts.”

Earlier, Nichols said he would reserve judgment on a defense request to acquit Bannon before the case was submitted to the jury after attorneys argued that prosecutors offered insufficient proof Bannon had defied a House committee’s subpoena in its investigation of the Capitol attack.

“There has been no evidence presented that the defendant is guilty,” attorney Evan Corcoran argued. Among the defense challenges, Corcoran claimed the subpoena was not valid because a government witness did not recall being present when committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., signed the subpoena.

Prosecutors rejected the defense argument, saying the signed document had been submitted, along with other correspondence showing that Bannon had failed to comply with the committee’s demands.

Federal prosecutors rested their case against Bannon Wednesday after testimony from just two witnesses, including the chief counsel of the House committee investigating the Capitol attack, who told the jury the former Trump aide repeatedly defied the panel’s demand for documents and testimony despite the threat of criminal prosecution.

Kristin Amerling, who also serves as the committee’s deputy staff director, said Bannon was put on notice multiple times that he risked contempt charges if he did not produce the required information and appear for a deposition, yet failed to meet every deadline outlined in a Sept. 23, 2021, subpoena.

Former White House strategist Steve Bannon departs the federal courthouse Monday, July 18, 2022, in Washington. Jury selection began Monday in the trial of Bannon, a one-time adviser to former President Donald Trump, who faces criminal contempt of Congress charges after refusing for months to cooperate with the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol insurrection.

Referring to correspondence with Bannon attorney Robert Costello, Amerling said the lawyer never requested an extension of the deadlines or suggested that his client had no information relevant to the committee’s inquiry. Instead, Costello argued that he believed Bannon to be exempted from complying because former President Donald Trump had intended to invoke executive privilege.

More: ‘Above the law’: Feds unveil contempt case against Steve Bannon; defense claims case driven by politics

“The select committee’s position was this was not a valid rationale for refusing to comply,” Amerling said, adding that the committee had never received a notice – “formal or informal”– that Trump had invoked executive privilege related to Bannon.

The committee counsel said Costello was informed that the panel was “obligated to view (Bannon’s) failure to comply as willful noncompliance with the criminal contempt statute.”

This month, the Justice Department revealed in court documents that Trump’s attorney never said that the former president intended to invoke executive privilege that would shield Bannon from the committee. In January, the Supreme Court rejected Trump’s attempts to shield documents from the committee citing executive privilege.

The witness was notified the committee had voted to hold Bannon in contempt on Oct. 19, prompting a referral to the Justice Department for prosecution after a full House vote two days later.

President Donald Trump congratulates his adviser Steve Bannon in January 2017 during the swearing-in of senior staff in the East Room of the White House in Washington.

Asked whether Bannon had made any additional contact after the notification, Amerling said, “I didn’t hear anything from him.”

The government’s case largely hinges on Amerling’s testimony, while Bannon’s attorneys have sought to cast the prosecution as politically driven.

Corcoran appeared to suggest that Congress was operating on a timeline propelled by lawmakers’ personal interests, asking whether members of Congress were directly involved in setting the deadlines.

Amerling said the urgency of the investigation dictated that the committee move to obtain information “as expeditiously as possible.”

Corcoran turned to Amerling’s own longtime work for Democratic lawmakers and familiarity with a member of the prosecution team, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston.

Chairman of the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol, Rep. Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., speaks with members of the media after a hearing of the committee, Thursday, June 16, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin) ORG XMIT: DCJM117

Amerling testified that she had known Gaston for about 15 years when they overlapped as staffers for former Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. More recently, she said the two have been members of the same book club whose members include a number of former Waxman staffers.

“Do you ever discuss the politics of the day?” Corcoran asked.

“To best of my recollection, the conversations cover a whole variety of topics,” Amerling said. Given the members’ careers, she said it was “not unusual to talk about politics in some way or another.”

Bannon faces two counts of contempt, one for his refusal to appear for the deposition and another involving his failure to produce documents.

Each count could carry a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a maximum fine of $100,000.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Jan. 6: Steve Bannon attorneys call no witnesses in contempt case

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