Washington- Steve Bannon, former top campaign aide to Donald Trump and chief White House strategist, has been found guilty of two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for refusing to comply with a subpoena for documents and testimony issued by the selected House committee that investigating the January case. 6 attack on the Capitol.
A jury of 12 Washington DC residents convicted Bannon after less than three hours of deliberation.
Bannon did not testify in his own defense and faces a maximum of one year in prison on each of the two charges. He will not be held pending sentencing, which is scheduled for October 21.
The Justice Department charged Bannon with contempt after the House of Representatives voted last year to send a criminal referral for his non-compliance for prosecution.
Bannon pleaded innocent, and what ensued was a tumultuous legal battle between the defense and prosecutors over what evidence was admissible, Bannon’s efforts to delay the proceedings, and the ongoing televised hearings that review the House’s evidence on Jan. 6. several times.
The House Committee, whichgave the in September 2021. The panel asked Bannon for information in 17 key areas, ranging from his communications with former President Trump to his knowledge of the coordination between right-wing extremist groups in carrying out the Capitol attack.
Prosecutors told jury Bannon thought he was…and “thumped his nose” at congressional demands, while Bannon himself did not testify and his legal team did not call witnesses.
The chief attorney for the Jan. 6 commission told jurors that it was…for witnesses who receive a subpoena from Congress to outright fail to comply, as Bannon did. Kristin Amerling, one of the two witnesses called by prosectors, said the commission considered Bannon’s referral to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress as a “very serious step.” They warned Bannon that he could be charged with a crime, she said, but he didn’t obey.
Bannon claimed at the time of his denial that he could not testify due to concerns about the former president’s executive privileges. However, Amerling said the commission never received notice from Trump about this impediment to Bannon’s impeachment, and the commission would not have acknowledged such a claim anyway.
In a surprising turn of events, days before the trial began, Bannon told the Jan. 6 committee that he would be…— publicly — after his attorney, Robert Costello, said Trump reversed course regarding those executive privilege claims.
The jury was allowed to hear about the turnaround, both in the interrogation of witnesses and in the closing statements, but the jurors were told by the judge that this had nothing to do with Bannon’s previous alleged refusal to obey.
“Whether or not Mr. Bannon complies with the subpoena in the future is irrelevant to whether or not he defaulted in October,” Judge Carl Nichols told them.
Prosecutors also called the FBI agent assigned to the case, who testified that Bannon allegedly posted multiple online messages stating he was not complying with the subpoena, in order to “stand behind Trump.”
“Our government only works if people show up. It only works if people follow the rules. And it only works if people are held accountable if they don’t,” prosecutor Molly Gaston concluded.
“The defendant chose loyalty to Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” she said.
But the defense team claimed that Bannon was innocent, that he believed talks about the validity of Trump’s executive privilege claim were ongoing and flexible, and that he had not willfully denied Congress’s request. They told the jury that he may have been “chosen” by the committee and Amerling because of politics.
“Even if you think in retrospect that the path Mr. Bannon took and the path his lawyer took … turned out to be a mistake,” attorney Evan Corcoran told the jury in his closing statements, “it was not a crime.”
“The entire basis of the government’s case rests with Ms Amerling,” the lawyer added, accusing her of inaccuracies and later emphasizing that Amerling and Gaston were former colleagues and part of the same book club. Amerling said they had no personal relationship and that the book club had no influence on her testimony.
Throughout the trial, but outside of the jury’s presence, Bannon’s attorneys disagreed with the judge’s rulings, including a ruling that prevented Bannon from saying that he was merely following counsel’s advice and that he believed that administrative law was applicable to his decision not to testify before the committee. The defense also was not allowed to call members of the Jan. 6 committee as witnesses, which they say would adversely affect them because they could not fathom the reasoning behind the subpoena and the deadlines.
Out of court, Bannon told reporters he was behind Trump and the Constitution. His attorneys indicated they plan to appeal the decision, based on Nichols’ suggestion that he may not agree with the binding DC precedent that banned Bannon from calling members of Congress to testify. and prevented him from defending himself, on the advice of counsel.
“Shame on this office…for how far they’ve gone in this case,” Schoen said of the US attorney.
Bannon is the first of two Trump allies charged with criminally defying the Jan. 6 commission’s demands to stand trial. Former trade adviser Peter Navarro is also facing two counts of criminal contempt from Congress. He pleaded not guilty and is due to stand trial in November.
Prosecutors declined to charge two other former Trump White House officials who the House dismissed for contempt. Former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and adviser Dan Scavino were not charged with crimes after the Jan. 6 commission said they had not properly complied with a subpoena.