Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former US President Donald Trump, was found guilty on Friday of contempt charges for defying a congressional subpoena from the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection. at the US Capitol.
Bannon, 68, was sentenced after a four-day trial in federal court in Washington on two counts: one of refusing to appear for a deposition and the other of refusing to provide documents in response to the subpoena from the committee. The jury of eight men and four women deliberated for just under three hours.
He faces up to two years in federal prison when sentenced Oct. 21. Each count carries a minimum sentence of 30 days in jail.
The committee requested Bannon’s testimony about his involvement in Trump’s efforts to nullify the 2020 presidential election. Bannon initially argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege. But the House panel and the Justice Department argue that such a claim is dubious because Trump fired Bannon from the White House in 2017 and Bannon was therefore a private citizen when he consulted with the then-president at the time. the day before the riot. January 6, 2021.
Bannon’s lawyers tried to argue during the trial that he had not refused to cooperate and that the dates “were fluctuating”. They pointed to the fact that Bannon backtracked shortly before the trial began — after Trump dropped his objection — and offered to testify before the committee.
Prosecution says Bannon ignored deadlines
In closing arguments on Friday morning, both sides again emphasized their primary trial positions. The prosecution argued that Bannon deliberately ignored clear and explicit timelines, and the defense asserted that Bannon believed those timelines were flexible and subject to negotiation.
Bannon received a subpoena on September 23 last year ordering him to provide the requested documents to the committee by October 7 and to appear in person by October 14. Bannon was indicted in November on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, a month after the Justice Department received the referral from the House committee.
Bannon’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, told jurors in his closing arguments on Friday that those deadlines were just “placeholders” while attorneys for each side negotiated terms.
Corcoran said the committee “rushed to judge” because they “wanted to make an example of Steve Bannon.”
Corcoran also suggested that the government’s main witness, the January 6 committee’s chief counsel Kristin Amerling, was personally biased. Amerling admitted on the stand that she was a lifelong Democrat and had been friends with one of the prosecutors for years. Corcoran also vaguely hinted that the signature of Jan. 6 committee chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, a Democrat from Mississippi, was different on the subpoena than on other letters, but dropped that when the prosecution objected.
Prosecutors focused on the series of letters exchanged between the Jan. 6 committee and Bannon’s lawyers. The correspondence shows that Thompson immediately rejects Bannon’s claim that he was exempted by Trump’s claim of executive privilege and explicitly threatens Bannon with criminal prosecution.
“The defense wants to make this difficult, difficult and confusing,” Assistant US Attorney Amanda Vaughn said in her closing statement. “It’s not hard. It’s not hard. There were only two witnesses because it’s as simple as it sounds.”
The defense on Thursday requested an acquittal, saying the prosecution had failed to prove its case. Presenting his motion for acquittal before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, Corcoran said “no reasonable juror could find that Mr. Bannon refused to comply.”
After the motion was filed, the defense closed its case without calling any witnesses, telling Nichols that Bannon saw no point in testifying since the judge’s previous rulings had gutted his intended defenses. Among other things, Bannon’s team was barred from calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or members of the House panel as witnesses.