Jan 6 hearings: Steve Bannon seeks acquittal in contempt of Congress case
- Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon declined to testify in his contempt of Congress hearing
- His lawyers did not call any witnesses
- They argued that the judge should simply acquit him since prosecutors had not proven their case
Former Trump adviser Steve Bannon declined to testify, and his lawyers did not call any witnesses in his contempt of Congress hearing on Thursday, arguing that the judge should simply acquit him since prosecutors had not proven their case.
The decision not to call any witnesses in Bannon's defence opened the door for closing arguments to begin on Friday. The court did not rule immediately on the motion for acquittal, and the case is expected to be in the hands of the jury by lunchtime Friday.
One of Bannon's lawyers, David Schoen, argued that instead of the congressional lawyer who testified during the trial, they should be entitled to call Rep. Bennie Thompson, the Democratic head of the House Jan. 6 committee that had subpoenaed Bannon's testimony. The judge had previously denied such request.
In court, The Associated Press noted that Bannon nodded and smiled as Evan Corcoran, another of his lawyers, claimed that the timing of when Bannon might comply with the congressional subpoena was variable and that testimony by the House panel's chief lawyer, Kristin Amerling, had made it plain "that the dates were in flux."
"No reasonable juror could conclude that Mr. Bannon refused to comply," according to the aid.
Bannon's team also informed the judge.
There was little purpose in testifying because previous judgements had effectively eliminated his intended areas of defence. Bannon understands that he would be barred from telling the true facts," according to Schoen.
District Judge Carl Nichols indicated he will rule on the acquittal motion later.
Corcoran has tried to prove throughout the trial that the timeline for former President Donald Trump's former adviser to come before the House committee investigating the Capitol incident was flexible as long as the two parties were on talking terms.
Corcoran contended in his opening statements that the accusations against Bannon were politically motivated and that the former adviser was in good faith negotiations with the congressional committee when he was charged. Corcoran informed the jury, "No one ignored the subpoena."
In actuality, one of Bannon's prior lawyers, Robert Costello, contacted a House committee attorney to voice some of Bannon's worries about testifying, according to Corcoran.
"They did what two lawyers do. They negotiated ," Corcoran said, adding that Bannon and his legal team believed "the dates of the subpoena were not fixed; they were flexible."
On Thursday, Bannon, who was dressed in two collared shirts, a T-shirt, and a black jacket, fiddled with his phone and swayed back and forth in his chair, noted AP.
Bannon was working for Trump in an unofficial capacity at the time of the insurgency on Jan. 6, 2021, and is accused of ignoring a congressional subpoena from the House committee examining the aftermath of the 2020 election and the events leading up to the deadly riot.
Bannon was indicted in November on two charges of criminal contempt of Congress, a month after the House panel referred him to the Justice Department. On conviction, each offence carries a minimum of 30 days in jail and a maximum of a year in prison.
The Justice Department rested its case on Wednesday after only two witnesses were called: Amerling and FBI special agent Stephen Hart. The prosecution's case was centered around Amerling's testimony, which detailed the extent to which the committee attempted to engage Bannon and the timeline that led up to the missed deadline.
Corcoran asked Amerling during cross examination whether it was typical for witnesses to appear before a congressional committee several weeks after the deadline date on a subpoena. Amerling replied "yes," but only "when witnesses are cooperating with the committee."
According to Amerling, there was no such leeway because Bannon was recalcitrant from the outset.
The committee did not hear from Bannon until after the first deadline had passed when his lawyer wrote the committee a letter claiming that Bannon was shielded by Trump's claim of executive privilege and would not be releasing papers or appearing. Trump's allegation was rejected in writing by the committee since Trump was no longer president and Bannon was not employed at the White House at the time of the violence.
Bannon was given a firm deadline of Oct. 14 to appear before the committee. When that deadline passed, Thompson, the committee chairman, threatened Bannon's lawyer with criminal prosecution on Oct. 15.
The committee wanted to talk with Bannon because it had information that Bannon was directly involved in planning, logistics, and funding for Trump's, a Republican, efforts to reverse the 2020 election and prevent Congress from certifying Democrat Joe Biden's victory. The subpoena sought any papers or correspondence pertaining to Trump and others in his orbit, including lawyer Rudy Giuliani and extremist groups like the Proud Boys and the Oath Keepers.
The emphasis on the subpoena timeline is one of the few defences Nichols left Bannon's legal team with following a hearing last week. Major portions of Bannon's prepared defence were deemed irrelevant by Nichols and could not be mentioned in court. Bannon could not claim executive privilege, which allows presidents to conceal secret material from the courts and the legislative branch, or that he was behaving on the advice of his lawyers, according to the judge.