WASHINGTON – Federal prosecutors began unveiling their case in the contempt trial of former White House strategist Steve Bannon Tuesday, asserting that the longtime Trump aide “decided he was above law” when he defied a subpoena from a House committee investigating the Capitol attack.
“It wasn’t an accident; it wasn’t a mistake,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn told jurors in opening arguments. “It was a decision; it was a choice.“
“This case is about the defendant thumbing his nose at the orderly process of our government; It is that simple,” Vaughn said
Bannon put himself above the U.S. government’s effort to examine the Jan. 6, 2021, assault, she said.
“Congress was entitled (to the information),” Vaughn said. “It was mandatory… He chose to show his contempt for Congress and its processes.”
Bannon attorney Evan Corcoran, meanwhile, offered a stark counterpoint to the government’s case, walking to his client’s side at the defense table.
“This is Steve Bannon and he is innocent of the charges,” Corcoran told the jury, referring to the flamboyant Trump aide dressed in a black jacket, shirt and dark pants.
Corcoran argued that “politics” had driven the committee’s decision to seek Bannon’s testimony as a top aide to former President Donald Trump.
“Politics is the lifeblood of the U.S. House of Representatives,” Corcoran said. “Politics invades every decision that they make. It’s the currency of Congress.”
Corcoran denied that Bannon had ignored the subpoena, arguing that there was no set time for Bannon to appear for a deposition and provide documents as his attorneys and the committee were engaged in negotiations.
“No one ignored the subpoena,” Corcoran said. “Quite the contrary there was direct engagement” with the committee.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols moved ahead with the trial following an evidentiary dispute earlier Tuesday that threatened to delay the case as defense lawyers expressed confusion over the judge’s previous rulings.
Bannon’s defense team sought to exclude correspondence between the House committee and defense lawyers relating to the subpoena that Bannon defied, resulting in his indictment.
Nichols ruled Tuesday that he would admit the letters in their entirety, including discussions of executive privilege which Bannon had argued shielded him from the subpoena.
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The judge has previously excluded the defense’s executive privilege argument.
Referring to the dispute, Corcoran said a delay was needed to resolve evidence questions and a “seismic shift” in the defense’s understanding of the case.
Bannon faces two counts of contempt for his refusal to appear for a deposition and another involving his refusal to produce documents, despite a subpoena from the House committee. The panel has held a series of hearings this summer featuring damning testimony from former Trump administration officials.
Each count carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a maximum fine of $100,000.
The subpoena was issued last fall, and the committee and full House voted to hold him in contempt. He was indicted by a federal grand jury in November.
The committee’s interest in seeking Bannon’s testimony includes efforts to block the certification of President Joe Biden’s election and his contacts with Trump in the days leading up to the Jan. 6 attack. Bannon is linked to two telephone contacts with the former president on Jan. 5, 2021.
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The calls were highlighted during the panel’s public hearing last week, examining the role of extremist groups who answered Trump’s call to gather in Washington.
After their initial Jan. 5 call, Bannon said on his podcast, “All hell is going to break loose tomorrow.
“It’s all converging and now we’re on, as they say, the point of attack,” Bannon said. “Right, the point of attack tomorrow. I’ll tell you this. It’s not gonna happen like you think it’s gonna happen. It’s gonna be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in.”
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