Prosecutors rest their case against Bannon after two witnesses testify
Federal prosecutors rested their case against Stephen Bannon on Wednesday after calling just two witnesses in the former White House strategist’s contempt of Congress trial for defying a subpoena from the House Jan. 6 committee.
The prosecutors took just over a day to lay out their case. Jurors have so far heard testimony from Kristin Amerling, the committee’s chief counsel, who began testifying Tuesday afternoon, and FBI Special Agent Stephen Hart.
Over the objections of the prosecutors, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols allowed Bannon’s defense team to show the jury its client’s belated offer earlier this month to testify before the select committee.
But Amanda Vaughn, an assistant U.S. attorney prosecuting the case, emphasized in an exchange with Amerling that the offer, which came about nine months after the deadline the select committee set in the subpoena, could not be considered as full compliance, partly because Bannon has not provided any records that the panel demanded.
The jury was presented with a timeline of Bannon’s communications with the select committee, starting with him receiving the subpoena through his attorney Robert Costello on September 23, 2021.
The subpoena ordered Bannon to provide relevant documents to the committee by Oct. 7, 2021, and to appear for a deposition by Oct. 14. After both deadlines passed without Bannon’s compliance, the select committee advanced a resolution to hold him in contempt.
Bannon’s defense team worked to complicate what prosecutors were painting as a straightforward case of failing to comply with a lawful subpoena.
Evan Corcoran, one of the defense attorneys, sought to work in a political angle multiple times on Wednesday, despite a warning from Nichols earlier in the day that the trial would not be allowed to turn into a “political circus.”
Through his cross-examination of Amerling, Corcoran revealed that the committee staffer had briefly worked on a congressional staff with one of the prosecutors in the case, Molly Gaston, and that the two had been part of the same book club for years.
Amerling said that she hasn’t attended a meeting of the book club in about a year and that she and Gaston are not close. According to her testimony, the club is mainly composed of people who had previously worked for former Democratic Rep. Henry Waxman (Calif.).
“To the best of my recollection … it’s not unusual that we would talk about politics in one way or another,” Amerling said of the book club.
But she said that she had rarely spoken with Gaston and that their association had no impact on the committee’s work or the case against Bannon.
After Bannon was issued the subpoena last year, Costello told the committee that former President Trump had invoked executive privilege.
But Nichols has been adamant in recent months that the supposed assertion of privilege was not a valid defense for refusing to comply with the subpoena’s demands, and he has precluded Bannon’s legal team from making that argument at trial.
The judge informed the jury of that caveat when he allowed the defense team to introduce the recent communications between Bannon and the committee.
“Mr. Bannon’s belief that questions about executive privilege excused him from complying with the subpoena are irrelevant in this this case,” Nichols told the jurors.
The defense will begin its case Thursday morning. It’s unclear how many witnesses the defense intends to call or whether Bannon will take the stand in his own defense.
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