- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 20, 2022

The prosecution in Steve Bannon’s criminal contempt of Congress trial rested its case against the former Trump adviser after two days of testimony.

The government called just two witnesses to lay out what it called a straightforward case of Mr. Bannon willfully refusing to comply with demands to turn over documents and testimony after receiving a subpoena from the committee.

In remarks outside of the courthouse, Mr. Bannon returned to disparaging Rep. Bennie G. Thompson, the Mississippi Democrat who chairs the Jan. 6 panel and was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, for not showing up for the trial.

“Why is Bennie Thompson not defending his committee?” Mr. Bannon asked before a crowd of reporters and hecklers posted outside. “Why is he not here in person? Does he really have COVID? Has anybody checked?”

Mr. Bannon, 68, is on trial for defying the Jan. 6 committee’s demands for documents and a deposition in its probe of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.

Mr. Bannon argued after receiving the subpoena that the requested documents and testimony were protected under former President Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege, which were, at the time, the subject of a pending court battle.

SEE ALSO: Judge in Bannon’s case vows to keep trial from becoming ‘political circus’

The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bannon willfully failed to comply with a subpoena seeking pertinent information.

The prosecution began its arguments in earnest Tuesday after an arduous jury selection process and a spat over key evidence by calling Kristin Amerling, the Jan. 6 committee’s deputy staff director and chief counsel, to begin outlining its case.

Ms. Amerling, who advised the committee on issuing Mr. Bannon his subpoena, testified to the urgency behind the committee’s subpoena. She told the jury that the committee had strict deadlines under which it sought information from witnesses.

Ms. Amerling also testified that the committee sent a series of letters to Robert Costello, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer at the time, communicating its deadlines to hand over documents and appear.

Mr. Costello outlined his client’s objections to complying with the subpoena based on Mr. Trump’s claims of executive privilege.

Evan Corcoran, Mr. Bannon’s current lawyer, said the correspondence constituted a “negotiation” on the committee’s deadlines, which his client reasonably believed were malleable.

SEE ALSO: Key government witness against Bannon joined Democratic book club with prosecutor

Mr. Bannon’s claims of executive privilege were rejected by the committee, and Ms. Amerling told the jury that the committee warned Mr. Bannon on multiple occasions that he would be held in contempt if he continued to fail to comply with the subpoena.

The defense entered into evidence a letter Mr. Trump sent to Mr. Bannon on July 9, shortly before the trial began, in which the former president offered his permission for Mr. Bannon to testify before the committee and waived his executive privilege claim.

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols instructed the jury that the letter should not constitute evidence that Mr. Bannon’s reasoning for initially refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoena was valid.

The prosecution also called as a witness on Wednesday FBI Special Agent Stephen Hart who attended a video conference last November along with the prosecution team in which Mr. Costello advised the government not to prosecute Mr. Bannon.

Mr. Hart testified that Mr. Costello did not suggest during the video conference that Mr. Bannon should not be prosecuted based on claims that the committee’s deadlines were fungible or that Mr. Bannon was still negotiating with the committee.

Mr. Hart also testified about two of Mr. Bannon’s posts on the social media site Gettr in which Mr. Bannon linked to Rolling Stone and Daily Mail articles covering his refusal to appear before the committee, which the prosecution used to attempt to show that Mr. Bannon willfully bucked the committee despite his claims that he was still negotiating the deadline.

In cross-examination, Mr. Corcoran argued that the posts were merely links to articles published in outside news outlets, rather than public statements by his client.

Mr. Bannon’s defense team has also attempted to build its case that the charges against Mr. Bannon are politically motivated.

On Tuesday, Mr. Bannon’s legal team moved in its opening statements to paint the committee, all of the members of which were appointed by Democrats, as a partisan weapon being used to target political opponents.

“Politics is the lifeblood of the House of Representatives,” Mr. Corcoran said. “Politics affects every decision. It’s the currency of Congress.”

Before the jury entered the courtroom to continue hearing testimony from the prosecution’s first witness, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn raised concerns before U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols about what she said were attempts by Mr. Bannon’s defense team to paint the motivations of the House Jan. 6 Committee as political, which she said should be barred in arguments before the jury.

Judge Nichols ruled that Mr. Bannon’s defense team has leeway to inquire about the biases of witnesses in the courtroom, but may not ask about biases of those outside of the courtroom.

“There may be some questions that cross the line,” the judge said before assuring the prosecution that he would police the questioning of witnesses.

“I don’t intend for this to become a political case or a political circus,” Judge Nichols said.

Nonetheless, the defense team skirted the line in cross-examination of Ms. Amerling in which Mr. Corcoran elicited Ms. Amerling’s testimony that she previously worked with Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston while on staff for former Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, more than a decade ago.

Ms. Gaston is one of the two prosecutors in the Bannon case.

Since serving on Mr. Waxman’s staff, the two have participated in a book club whose members are mostly current and former Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, Ms. Amerling testified.

The defense team’s cross-examination also drilled down on Ms. Amerling’s two-decade career as a staffer on the Hill. Ms. Amerling testified that she has worked for Democratic lawmakers throughout her career and personally donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

Ms. Amerling testified to the FBI that she was not partisan.

In redirect examination from the prosecution, Ms. Amerling testified that she did not maintain a close relationship with Ms. Gaston and that she had not attended the book club in more than a year.

Mr. Bannon has pleaded not guilty to two counts of contempt of Congress. He could spend up to two years behind bars if convicted on both counts.

• Joseph Clark can be reached at jclark@washingtontimes.com.

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