(WASHINGTON) — Steve Bannon, who served as former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist before departing the White House in August 2017, is on trial for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.
Bannon was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 panel for records and testimony in September of last year, with the committee telling him it had “reason to believe that you have information relevant to understanding activities that led to and informed the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.”
After the House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt for defying the subpoena, the Justice Department in November charged Bannon with two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, setting up this week’s trial.
Here is how the news is developing. All times are Eastern:
Jul 20, 11:17 AM EDT
Jan. 6 staffer says panel ‘rejected the basis’ for Bannon’s privilege claim
Kristin Amerling, a senior staffer on the House Jan. 6 committee, returned to the stand to continue her testimony from Tuesday. She testified that Bannon was clearly informed that any claims of privilege were rejected by the committee, and that his non-compliance “would force” the committee to refer the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution.
She said the subpoena issued to Bannon indicated he was “required to produce” records encompassing 17 specific categories, including records related to the Jan. 6 rally near the White House, his communications with Trump allies and several right-wing groups, his communications with Republican lawmakers, and information related to his “War Room” podcast.
The committee was seeking to understand “the relationships or potential relationships between different individuals and organizations that played a role in Jan. 6,” Amerling said. “We wanted to ask him what he knew.”
Asked by prosecutor Amanda Vaughn if Bannon provided any records to the committee by the deadline of 10 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2021, Amerling replied, “He did not.”
“Did the committee get anything more than radio silence by 10 a.m. on Oct. 7?” Vaughn asked.
“No,” said Amerling.
Amerling said that in a correspondence she received that day at about 5 p.m. — after the deadline had passed — Bannon’s attorney at the time, Robert Costello, claimed that Trump had “announced his intention to assert” executive privilege, which Costello said at the time rendered Bannon “unable to respond” to the subpoena “until these issues are resolved.”
But the next day, Amerling recalled on the stand, she sent Costello a letter from Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson, “explaining that the committee rejected the basis that he had offered for refusing to comply.”
“Did the letter also tell the defendant he still had to comply?” Vaughn asked Amerling.
“Yes, it did.” Amerling said.
“Did the letter warn the defendant what might happen if he failed to comply with the subpoena?” Vaughn asked.
“Yes, it did,” said Amerling.
The letter was “establishing a clear record of the committee’s views, making sure the defendant was aware of that,” Amerling testified.
Jul 20, 10:06 AM EDT
Judge won’t let trial become ‘political circus,’ he says
Federal prosecutors in Steve Bannon’s contempt trial raised concerns with the judge that Bannon’s team has been suggesting to the jury that this is a “politically motivated prosecution” before the second day of testimony got underway Wednesday morning.
Before the jury was brought in, prosecutor Amanda Vaughn asked U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols to make sure the jury “doesn’t hear one more word about this case being” politically motivated, after she said the defense’s opening statement Tuesday had “clear implications” that the defense was making that claim.
Nichols had barred such arguments from the trial.
In response, defense attorney Evan Corcoran defended his opening statement, saying it “was clearly on the line.”
Nichols then made it clear that during trial, the defense team may ask witnesses questions about whether they themselves may be biased — “but may not ask questions about whether someone else was biased in an action they took outside this courtroom.”
“I do not intend for this to become a political case, a political circus,” Nichols said.
Jul 19, 6:14 PM EDT
Bannon, outside courtroom, criticizes Jan. 6 panel
Speaking to reporters after the first full day in court, Bannon blasted members of the Jan. 6 committee and House Democrats for not showing up as witnesses in his trial.
“Where is Bennie Thompson?” asked Bannon regarding the Jan. 6 committee chairman. “He’s made it a crime, not a civil charge … have the guts and the courage to show up here and say exactly why it’s a crime.”
“I will promise you one thing when the Republicans that are sweeping to victory on Nov. 8 — starting in January, you’re going to get a real committee,” Bannon said. “We’re going to get a real committee with a ranking member who will be a Democrat … and this will be run
appropriately and the American people will get the full story.”
-Laura Romero and Soo Rin Kim
Jul 19, 5:23 PM EDT
A subpoena isn’t voluntary, says prosecution witness
The first witness for the prosecution, Kristin Amerling of the Jan. 6 committee, testified that a subpoena is not voluntary.
Amerling, the Jan. 6 panel’s deputy staff director and chief counsel, read aloud the congressional resolution creating the committee and explained that the committee’s role is to recommend “corrective measures” to prevent future attacks like the one on Jan. 6.
“Is a subpoena voluntary in any way?” asked prosecutor Amanda Vaughn.
“No,” Amerling replied.
Amerling also discussed how important it is to get information in a timely manner because the committee’s authority runs out at the end of the year. “There is an urgency to the focus of the Select Committee’s work … we have a limited amount of time in which to gather information,” she said.
Amerling noted that Bannon was subpoenaed pretty early on in the committee’s investigation.
She said the committee subpoenaed Bannon in particular because public accounts indicated that Bannon tried to persuade the public that the 2020 election was “illegitimate”; that on his podcast the day before Jan. 6 he made statements “including that all hell was going to break loose, that suggested he might have some advance knowledge of the events of Jan. 6”; that he was involved in discussions with White House officials, including Trump himself, relating to “strategies surrounding the events of Jan. 6”; and that he had been involved in discussions in the days leading up to Jan. 6 with “private parties who had gathered in the Willard hotel in Washington, D.C., reportedly to discuss strategies around efforts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power or overturning the election results.”
“Is that something that would have been relevant to the committee’s investigation?” Vaughn asked.
“Yes, because the Select Committee was tasked with trying to understand what happened on Jan. 6, and why,” Amerling replied.
Amerling will be back on the stand Wednesday morning when the trial resumes.
Jul 19, 3:55 PM EDT
Defense tells jury ‘there was no ignoring the subpoena’
Bannon’s defense attorney Matt “Evan” Corcoran said in his opening statement that “no one ignored the subpoena” issued to Bannon, and that “there was direct engagement by Bob Costello,” Bannon’s attorney, with the House committee, specifically committee staffer Kristin Amerling.
He said Costello “immediately” communicated to the committee that there was an objection to the subpoena, “and that Steve Bannon could not appear and that he could not provide documents.”
“So there was no ignoring the subpoena,” Corcoran said. What followed was “a considerable back and forth” between Amerling and Costello — “they did what two lawyers do, they negotiated.”
Corcoran said, “the government wants you to believe … that Mr. Bannon committed a crime by not showing up to a congressional hearing room … but the evidence is going to be crystal clear no one, no one believed Mr. Bannon was going to appear on Oct. 14, 2021,” and the reasons he couldn’t appear had been articulated to the committee.
Corcoran told the jury that the government has to prove beyond a reasonable that Steve Bannon willfully defaulted when he didn’t appear for the deposition on Oct. 14, 2021 — “but you’ll find from the evidence that that date on the subpoena was the subject of ongoing discussions” and it was not “fixed.”
In addition, Corcoran told jurors, you will hear that “almost every single one” of the witnesses subpoenaed led to negotiations between committee staff and lawyers, and often the appearance would be at a later date than what was on the subpoena.
Corcoran also argued that the prosecution may have been infected by politics, telling the jury that with each document or each statement provided at trial, they should ask themselves: “Is this piece of evidence affected by politics?”
Jul 19, 3:31 PM EDT
Prosecutors say Bannon’s failure to comply was deliberate
Continuing her opening statement, federal prosecutor Amanda Vaughn told the jury that the subpoena to Bannon directed him to provide documents by the morning of Oct. 7, 2021, and to appear for a deposition the morning of Oct. 14, 2021 — but instead he had an attorney, Robert Costello, send a letter to the committee informing the committee that he would not comply “in any way,” she said.
“The excuse the defendant gave for not complying” was the claim that “a privilege” meant he didn’t have to turn over certain information, Vaughn said. “[But] it’s not up to the defendant or anyone else to decide if he can ignore the [request] based on a privilege, it’s up to the committee.”
And, said Vaughn, the committee clearly told Bannon that “your privilege does not get you out of this one, you have to provide documents, and you have to come to your deposition.” And importantly, she said, the committee told Bannon that “a refusal to comply” could result in criminal prosecution.
“You will see, the defendant’s failure to comply was deliberate here,” Vaughn told the jury. “The only verdict that is supported by the evidence here: that the defendant showed his contempt for the U.S. Congress, and that he’s guilty.”
Jul 19, 2:58 PM EDT
Prosecution begins opening statements
Federal prosecutor Amanda Vaughn began opening statements by saying, “In September of last year, Congress needed information from the defendant, Steve Bannon. … Congress needed to know what the defendant knew about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. … Congress had gotten information that the defendant might have some details about the events leading up to that day and what occurred that day.”
So, Vaughn told the jury, Congress gave Bannon a subpoena “that mandated” he provide any information he might have.
“Congress was entitled to the information it sought, it wasn’t optional,” Vaughn said. “But as you will learn in this trial, the defendant refused to hand over the information he might have.”
Vaughn said Bannon ignored “multiple warnings” that he could face criminal prosecution for refusing to comply with the subpoena and for preventing the government from getting “important information.”
“The defendant decided he was above the law and decided he didn’t need to follow the government’s orders,” she said.
Jul 19, 2:51 PM EDT
Judge instructs jury of the burden of proof
Prior to opening statements, the judge made clear to the jury that the Justice Department has the burden to prove four distinct elements “beyond a reasonable doubt”:
(1) that Bannon was in fact subpoenaed for testimony and/or documents;
(2) that the testimony and/or documents were “pertinent” to the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation;
(3) that Bannon “failed to comply or refused to comply” with the subpoena;
(4) that the “failure or refusal to comply was willful.”
Jul 19, 2:44 PM EDT
Jury sworn in after judge denies continuance
A 14-member jury has been sworn in for the contempt trial of ex-Trump strategist Steve Bannon.
Of the 14 jurors, nine are men and five are women.
The swearing-in of the jury comes after U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols denied the defense’s request for a one-month delay of the trial, which attorneys for Bannon argued was necessary due to a “seismic shift in the understanding of the parties” of what the government’s evidence will be.
“We have a jury that is just about picked,” Nichols said in denying the request for a one-month continuance.
One of the jurors, a man who works for an appliance company, said Monday during jury selection that he watched the first Jan. 6 committee hearing and believes the committee is “trying to find the truth about what happened” on Jan. 6.
Another juror, a man who works as a maintenance manager for the Washington, D.C., Parks and Recreation department, said he believes what happened on Jan. 6 “doesn’t make sense.”
Another juror, a woman who works as a photographer for NASA, said “a lot” of her “photographer friends were at the Capitol” on Jan. 6, and she has watched some of the Jan. 6 hearings on the news.
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