You no doubt recall that Steve Bannon’s refusal to comply with a subpoena from the House January 6 committee earned him two two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress. His trial is underway this week, and today the jury is supposed to hear his defense. We don’t yet know if Bannon will take the stand himself. (Update: Nope. Aw, shucks.)
Bannon’s primary defense was that he had executive privilege to not testify. This defense was struck down by the judge some time back. Then last week he and Trump enacted some absurd bit of theater when Trump announced he was waiving Bannon’s executive privilege — which Bannon never had, and even if he did it’s no longer Trump’s privilege to waive — so that Bannon could testify to the committee after all. Nope, said the judge; he unlawfully ignored a subpoena. He doesn’t get a do-over.
Even before the trial began, Bannon appeared to be in trouble.
U.S. district court judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, issued a pretrial ruling last Monday asserting that Bannon’s lawyers could not argue executive privilege, while also shooting down a number of other stalling tactics unfurled by the defense.
These pretrial rulings were clearly a source of frustration for David Schoen, Bannon’s lawyer. “What’s the point of going to trial here if there are no defenses?” Schoen asked during last week’s open court session, to which Nichols replied, “Agreed.” Prosecutors believe that the case will be open-and-shut, writing in a December filing that they anticipated needing just “one day of testimony.”
The prosecutors had their day yesterday. There were two witnesses. One was a senior staff member on the House select J6 committee named Kirstin Amerling, who testified that there was a subpoena, and Banon was lawfully required to testify, and the dude didn’t show up, nor did he supply subpoenaed documents. He didn’t even contact the committee with an excuse.
The other witness was FBI Special Agent Stephen Hart, who testified about Bannon’s public and social media statements that demonstrated Bannon knew he was supposed to respond to the subpoena and just didn’t do it.
The defense seems to be attempting to throw shade on the prosecution by claiming the J6 committee is just engaged in political witch hunting. A lot of the defense attorney’s cross examination of Amerling focused on the fact that she’s in a book club with Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston, one of the prosecution lawyers. Apparently the book club formed while they were all working on the staff of former Rep. Henry Waxman more than a decade ago. Clearly, this is the stuff of nefarious Deep State shenanigans. (/snark)
Bannon and his lawyers have also been demanding that J6 committee chair Bennie Thompson testify. Apparently they think the Congressman should come running at Bannon’s beck and call, but Bannon can’t be bothered to reply to House subpoenas. Hm. Congressman Thompson has recently been diagnosed with covid and isn’t going anywhere, however, including to tonight’s prime time season finale of the Hearings. I assume co-chair Liz Cheney will be running the show in his place.
Okay, the news is in — the defense will not be presenting a defense. Bannon will not testify. The defense doesn’t have to present a defense, since the burdon of proof falls on prosecutions.
Going back to Bannon’s offer to testify before the committee now that the guy who still thinks he’s the President has waived executive privilege, which Bannon didn’t have — C. Ryan Barber writes at Insider that this could backfire. The judge allowed Bannon’s lawyers to tell the jury about the recent offer, implying that Bannon didn’t understand that the date of his testimony wasn’t flexible. The defense made much of the fact that Bennie Thompson had said they would consider setting another testimony date after Bannon has turned over the documents they want.
Bannon’s defense lawyers raised the offer to argue that the longtime Trump ally viewed his deadline to respond to the House committee as not fixed but “malleable.” But for prosecutors, the questioning created an opening to underscore their view that Bannon’s defiance cost the House committee precious time.
Calling Bannon’s recent offer to testify “sudden,” prosecutor Amanda Vaughn asked Amerling how much time the committee would have had to review information Bannon turned over and follow up on leads if he had complied with the subpoena.
“At least eight to nine months of additional time,” Amerling said, adding that the House committee is presently authorized to last for an additional five months, through the current Congress.
“And so, as opposed to 14 [months] in total, the committee now only has five,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn then asked whether Bannon’s offer to testify included an offer to turn over documents the House committee sought last year.
“It did not,” Amerling said.
“Has the defendant provided any documents since his sudden offer to comply on July 9?” Vaughn then asked.
“Not unless he’s provided some since I’ve been sitting here today,” Amerling said.
Anyway, seems to me this one comes down to how stupid or partisan the members of the jury might be.
I’ll be back later today to blog about the J6 series finale.
In other news, President Biden has tested positive for covid. His symptoms are mild. He’ll get every treatment possible and will probably be fine.