US: Jury finds Trump ex-adviser Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress

Prosecutor tells jurors the attack on Capitol represented a 'dark day' for America

By Reuters

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Published: Fri 22 Jul 2022, 11:06 PM

Last updated: Fri 22 Jul 2022, 11:27 PM

The jury in the trial of Steve Bannon, Donald Trump's former presidential adviser, reached a verdict on Friday on criminal charges of contempt of Congress for rebuffing a subpoena from the committee investigating last year's attack on the US Capitol, a court official said.

The verdict will be announced in federal court in Washington. The 12 jurors, eight men and four women, began deliberations earlier on Friday after hearing closing arguments in which prosecutors urged them to convict Bannon for willfully and unlawfully defying the subpoena and the defence suggested Bannon was targeted for political reasons.

Bannon, 68, has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanour counts after defying the Democratic-led House of Representative select committee's subpoena requesting testimony and documents as part of its inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, rampage by Trump supporters trying to undo the Republican's 2020 election defeat.

Prosecutor Molly Gaston told jurors the attack represented a "dark day" for America.

"There is nothing political about finding out why Jan. 6 happened and making sure it never happens again," Gaston said.

Bannon, Gaston added, showed disdain for Congress.

"He thought it was beneath him," Gaston added.

"The defendant made a deliberate decision not to comply and that, ladies and gentlemen, is contempt. It is a crime," Gaston said.

Evan Corcoran, one of Bannon's attorneys, told jurors that "there is no evidence in this case that Steve Bannon was involved at all" in the events of Jan. 6.

"The question is, 'Why? Why was Steve Bannon singled out?" Corcoran asked the jury.

"I ask you if this was in any way affected by politics," Corcoran added.

Corcoran tried to portray the key prosecution witness, senior committee staff member Kristin Amerling, as politically motivated. Corcoran also noted that Amerling was a member of a book club to which Gaston also belonged and that the two once worked together in the office of a Democratic congressman.

Amerling testified on Wednesday that Bannon disregarded the subpoena's two deadlines, sought no extensions and offered an invalid rationale for his defiance - a claim by Trump involving a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential.

"Even if you think in hindsight that the path that Mr. Bannon took and the path that his lawyer took ... turned out to be a mistake, it was not a crime," Corcoran told jurors.

Trump's supporters stormed the Capitol and attacked police in a failed effort to block formal congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, which Trump falsely claims was the result of widespread voting fraud. Bannon was a key adviser to Trump's 2016 presidential campaign, then served in 2017 as his chief White House strategist.

The defence rested its case on Thursday without calling any witnesses after the prosecution rested on Wednesday, having called just two witnesses over two days.

"This is a simple case about a man - that man, Steve Bannon - who didn't show up," Gaston told jurors. "Why didn't he show up? He did not want to provide the Jan. 6 committee with documents. He did not want to answer its questions. And when it really comes down to it, he did not want to recognize Congress's authority or play by the government's rules."

"Our government only works if people show up. It only works if people play by the rules. And it only works if people are held accountable when they do not," Gaston told jurors.

Gaston compared the case to a person getting a parking ticket in the District of Columbia.

"He gets to his car and there is a pink piece of paper under the windshield wiper," Gaston said. "He can go ahead and comply - that is, pay it - or if he thinks he has an excuse, he can give an explanation to the office of parking enforcement. But if the D.C. government rejects his excuse? That is it. That is the end."

US District Judge Carl Nichols placed limits on the kinds of arguments the defence could make during the trial.

Bannon was barred from arguing that he believed his communications with Trump were subject to a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential. The judge also prohibited Bannon from arguing that he relied on legal advice from an attorney in refusing to comply.

Bannon's primary defence in the trial was that he believed the subpoena's deadline dates were flexible and subject to negotiation between his attorney and the committee.

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