Opening statements in the criminal contempt of Congress trial of Steve Bannon ended Tuesday with prosecutors arguing Bannon did not appear to testify in the Jan. 6 inquest because he decided he was “above the law.”
Bannon’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, meanwhile, argued that the former White House Adjutant did not ignore the subpoena, but his team was still negotiating with the January 6 committee.
“No one ignored the subpoena,” Corcoran said. . “That’s called negotiation, that’s called accommodation… that’s not an excuse.”
Corcoran argued the case arose out of a politically charged Congress. “Politics is the lifeblood of the House of Representatives,” Corcoran said. The House of Representatives voted in October to contempt Bannon and refer the matter to the Justice Department by a vote of 229 to 202, mostly along the party line.
Corcoran urged the jury, “My only request to you is to think about this and ask yourself: is this piece of evidence influenced by politics?”
Back to the subpoena, Corcoran pointed to communications between the Special Committee’s chief counsel, Kristin Amerling, and Bannon’s attorney, Robert Costello.
“The evidence will show that there is a direct connection between the committee staffer and Bannon’s attorney,” Corcoran said.
Opening statements in the criminal contempt trial of Steve Bannon, which concluded Tuesday with prosecutors arguing Bannon did not appear to testify in the Jan. 6 inquest because he ruled he was “above the law.”
Bannon ignored the committee’s Jan. 6 subpoena in October
“The subpoena could not be ignored. There will be no evidence of that.’
Assistant US Attorney Amanda Vaughn told the jury that they were in court Tuesday because Bannon ruled he was “above the law.”
“The defendant decided that he was above the law and did not have to obey government orders like his fellow citizens, and that’s why we’re here today,” she said. “It’s a crime.”
The prosecutor told jurors they were seeing a series of letters from the committee, which dismissed Bannon’s claim that former President Trump invoked executive privileges that prevented him from working with the committee and warned him that he could be prosecuted if he missed October 18. Deadline 2021.
“It wasn’t an accident. It wasn’t a mistake. It was a decision. It was a decision,” Vaughn said. “He just decided not to play by the rules.”
Earlier, a federal judge denied Steve Bannon his request for a one-month stay of his criminal trial for contempt of Congress.
Bannon’s attorney, Evan Corcoran, requested the delay Tuesday morning after a dispute over evidence between the defense and prosecutors. Corcoran asked Judge Carl Nichols for a one-month extension to allow letters between them in evidence after a dispute between the former White House adviser and the Jan. 6 committee.
“The motion to continue is denied,” Nichols said. The serious trial then began on Tuesday at 2:15 p.m.
Bannon’s two criminal contempt charges follow his months-long refusal to cooperate with the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.
Bannon, 68, was charged in federal court in Washington DC with defying a Jan. 6 subpoena by the committee and in November with two counts of contempt of Congress, a month after the Department of Justice (DOJ) received the referral from Congress would have.
Each count carries a minimum of 30 days in prison and up to a year behind bars.
The trial follows brisk activity in the case since July 9. Over a week ago, the former White House strategist told the committee he was now ready to testify. His attorney, Robert Costello, said the change was because Trump waived his right to executive privilege to prevent testifying.
Bannon had been one of the most prominent of the Trump-allied holdouts when he declined to testify before the committee. He has argued that his testimony is protected by Trump’s claim to executive privilege.
Trump has repeatedly invoked executive privileges – even as a former president – to try to prevent testimony and the release of White House documents. The Supreme Court in January ruled against Trump’s efforts to stop the National Archives from collaborating with the committee, after a lower court judge partially ruled: “Presidents are not kings.”
The committee also found that Trump fired Bannon from the White House in 2017, making Bannon a private citizen when he consulted with the then-president ahead of the riots.
Bannon’s trial begins this week as the selection panel prepares for the televised primetime finale of its first series of public hearings on Thursday at 8 p.m. on January 6
Panel members claim more evidence is arriving and will be shared after Thursday’s final hearing, saying it could come through additional hearings or through “other methods”.
The Jan. 6 committee says it expects deleted Secret Service text messages and audio by Tuesday, two days before the prime-time hearing.
Late Friday, the select committee said it had subpoenaed the Secret Service with questions about missing text messages from the days surrounding last year’s Capitol riot. This followed conflicting reports as to whether they were deleted, with a Republican congressman accusing the agency of contradicting statements.
US District Judge Carl Nichols denied requests to postpone Bannon’s trial in separate hearings last week, including on Thursday when Bannon’s attorneys raised concerns about a CNN report that has since aired about their client, and what they call damaging comments during a hearing last week designated the House of Representatives committee investigating the riot.
“I’m aware of the current concerns about publicity and bias and whether we can use a jury, which will be reasonable and fair, but as I said before, I believe the reasonable way forward is to go through the voir dire trial to go through,” Nichols said Thursday, regarding the questioning of individual jurors prior to their selection. The judge said he intends to form a jury that “will be reasonable, fair and unbiased”.
While the judge allowed the trial, Nichols left open the possibility that reference could be made to the letters about Trump’s waiver of his privilege and Bannon’s offer to cooperate with the committee in the trial, saying the information was “at least potentially relevant” to Bannon’s Defense.
Roscoe Howard Jr., the former US Attorney in Washington, DC, said the best case for Bannon is when information about his offer of cooperation gets to the jury. Even if that’s the case, the claim that he was previously stopped from collaborating will be hard to argue because Bannon has declined to respond to the subpoena, Howard said.
“You have to show up to claim the privilege. You can’t call,’ he said.