Stephen K. Bannon was found guilty on Friday of criminal contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a subpoena from the House Jan. 6 committee, marking a significant victory for the panel as it ramps up its probe of the 2021 riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The jury in federal court in Washington returned the guilty verdict against Mr. Bannon on two counts. Federal prosecutors argued that the former Trump adviser “chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance to the law.”
The decision caps months of venomous back and forth between the former Trump adviser and the committee which has, at times, struggled to wrangle key witnesses throughout its yearlong investigation into the attack on the Capitol. The day before the pro-Trump riot at the Capitol, Mr. Bannon vowed that “all hell” would break loose on Jan. 6.
He struck a more docile tone outside of the courthouse on Friday after the verdict was announced, thanking the jury and conceding defeat.
“We respect their decision,” Mr. Bannon said. “We may have lost a battle here today, but we’re not going to lose the war.”
“I stand with Trump and the Constitution,” he said. “And I will never back off that ever.”
SEE ALSO: Bannon says political bias at root of criminal contempt charges in closing arguments
He did not testify in his own defense.
Mr. Bannon‘s lawyer, David Schoen, said he was preparing to file a “bulletproof appeal” to the ruling.
The jury deliberated for just under three hours before reaching its verdict, signaling a treacherous legal fate for other witnesses who decline to cooperate with the Capitol riot probe.
Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson, Mississippi Democrat, and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, Wyoming Republican, called the jury’s decision “a victory for the rule of law and an important affirmation of the Select Committee’s work.”
“Just as there must be accountability for all those responsible for the events of January 6th, anyone who obstructs our investigation into these matters should face consequences,” the lawmakers said in a statement. “No one is above the law”
Criminal contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor. Mr. Bannon faces a minimum of 30 days in prison under federal law, and a maximum of up to two years in prison. A sentencing hearing is scheduled for Oct. 21.
Mr. Bannon, who hosts the news and opinion broadcast “War Room: Pandemic,” insists the charges against him are politically motivated and the Democratic-controlled committee has conflicts of interest in discrediting Republicans.
He said after receiving the committee’s subpoena last fall 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. The committee said Mr. Trump‘s privilege claims did not shroud Mr. Bannon from testifying.
The government called just two witnesses in the weeklong trial to lay out what it called a straightforward case of Mr. Bannon willfully refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoena demanding that he turn over documents last fall.
The committee has voted to hold three other former Trump White House officials — Mark Meadows, Dan Scavino and Peter Navarro — in contempt of Congress for failing to fully comply with its demands for documents and testimony.
All three former officials cited the former president’s claims of executive privilege.
A federal grand jury indicted Mr. Navarro, who failed to turn over documents or appear before the committee after being subpoenaed in February, on charges mirroring those of Mr. Bannon.
Shortly after Mr. Navarro was indicted, the Justice Department declined to indict Mr. Meadows and Mr. Scavino.
Mr. Bannon‘s legal team argued that he did not ignore the subpoena and clearly communicated his reasoning to the committee behind his delay in turning over material.
The defense also portrayed the Democratic-controlled committee as a partisan weapon being used to target political opponents.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols vowed not to allow the trial to evolve into a “political circus” after Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn raised concerns over Mr. Corcoran’s opening arguments in which he said, “politics affects every decision” on Capitol Hill.
The warning from the judge, however, did not deter the defense from returning to what it says is an important element in the case.
In closing remarks that drew multiple objections from the prosecution, Mr. Corcoran honed in on the government’s key witness, Kristin Amerling, the Jan. 6 committee’s deputy staff director and chief counsel, and her two-decade career as staff to Democrat lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“The entire foundation of the government’s case rests on Ms. Amerling,” Mr. Corcoran told the jury. “You need to consider whether a witness has an interest in the outcome of the case.”
Mr. Corcoran accused Ms. Amerling of harboring deep-seated bias developed over her career that drove her to play hardball with Mr. Bannon over the subpoena and to ultimately pursue criminal charges.
Ms. Amerling argued that her motivations were not motivated by politics. The defense disputed her.
“The thing about bias is that sometimes people become blind to it,” Mr. Corcoran said. “Ms. Amerling worked for 20 years for one political party in a political arena. Drop by drop it builds up.”
“Ms. Amerling may not be able to see how her work for one political party affects her,” he said. “But you’ve got to see it.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Corcoran elicited testimony from Ms. Amerling under cross-examination 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 on 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.
Ms. Amerling said that throughout her two-decade career as a staffer on the Hill, she has worked for Democrat lawmakers and personally donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
She downplayed the significance of her membership in the book club saying that she had not attended in over a year. She also said she does not maintain a friendship with Ms. Gaston despite being in the same book club.
“Make no mistake, I’m not against book clubs,” Mr. Corcoran said Friday during his closing arguments. “But why did Ms. Amerling try to downplay her relationship with the prosecutor?”
“If this issue involving the relationship with the prosecutor gives you pause, you must give Mr. Bannon the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
The prosecution said in its rebuttal that the focus on politics was a distraction.
Ms. Vaughn argued that what was before the jury was 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.
“The defendant is not above the law,” Ms. Vaughn said. “He is not the decider of the law. He is guilty.”
“The defense wants to make this hard, difficult, confusing,” she said. “This is not difficult. He chose not to comply. He made a deliberate decision not to comply because he didn’t want to.”
The prosecution began its case in earnest on Tuesday after an arduous jury selection process and a spat over key evidence by calling Ms. Amerling 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.
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 prosecution also called as a witness 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.