WASHINGTON (AP) — Federal prosecutors called their first witness to the stand Tuesday and commenced constructing their case that former Trump adviser Steve Bannon willfully ignored a congressional subpoena in open defiance of the U.S. government.
Bannon, a longtime adviser and strategist for former President Donald Trump, was delivered to trial on a pair of federal charges for criminal contempt of Congress after refusing for months to cooperate with the House committee investigating the U.S. Capitol revolt on Jan. 6, 2021.
Under questioning Tuesday from Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn, Kristin Amerling, the chief counsel for the Jan. 6 committee, went through an in depth explanation of the committee’s role, the Bannon subpoena and why the panel felt it was essential to compel his testimony.
“The defendant decided he was above the law and didn’t must follow the federal government’s orders like his fellow residents,” Vaughn told jurors.
Amerling said Bannon’s public statements leading as much as the riot “suggested he may need some advanced knowledge of the events of Jan. 6.”
Amerling added there have been multiple indications that Bannon “may need had some discussions with individuals within the White House, including the president.” The day’s session ended with Amerling being questioned by the prosecution. The trial was scheduled to resume Wednesday morning.
In a gap statement, Vaughn said the subpoena issued to Bannon by the committee investigating the aftermath of the 2020 presidential election and the events leading as much as the Capitol revolt “wasn’t optional. It wasn’t a request, and it wasn’t an invite. It was mandatory.”
“The defendant’s failure to comply was deliberate,” she added. “It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a mistake. It was a alternative.”
Bannon’s lawyers argued that the fees against him were politically motivated and that Bannon was engaged in good-faith negotiations with the congressional committee when he was charged.
“Nobody ignored the subpoena,” defense lawyer Evan Corcoran told the jury.
In point of fact, Corcoran said, one in all Bannon’s previous lawyers, Robert Costello, contacted an attorney for the House committee to precise a few of Bannon’s concerns about testifying.
“They did what two lawyers do. They negotiated,” Corcoran said, adding that Bannon and his legal team believed “the dates of the subpoena weren’t fixed; they were flexible.”
An unofficial adviser to Trump on the time of the Capitol attack, Bannon was charged with defying a subpoena that sought his records and testimony. He was indicted in November on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, one month after the Justice Department received a congressional referral. Upon conviction, each count carries a minimum of 30 days of jail and so long as a yr behind bars.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, had previously ruled that major elements of Bannon’s planned defense were irrelevant and will not be introduced in court. He ruled last week that Bannon couldn’t claim he believed he was covered by executive privilege or that he was acting on the recommendation of his lawyers.
Outside the courthouse, Bannon launched into an prolonged rant against the committee chairman, Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, and the committee hearing, calling it “a show trial.” He also repeated the discredited claim that Trump won the 2020 election and called President Joe Biden illegitimate. But he didn’t criticize his trial or Nichols.
Bannon, 68, was one of the vital distinguished of the Trump-allied holdouts refusing to testify before the committee. He had argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege, which allows presidents to withhold confidential information from the courts and the legislative branch.
Trump has repeatedly asserted executive privilege — though he’s not a current president — to attempt to block witness testimony and the discharge of White House documents. The Supreme Court in January ruled against Trump’s efforts to stop the National Archives from cooperating with the committee after a lower court judge — Tanya S. Chutkan — noted, partially, “Presidents are usually not kings.”
Zahara Hill contributed to this reporting.