WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors on Wednesday rested what they argue is a pretty straightforward contempt of Congress case against former Trump adviser Steve Bannon after calling just two witnesses.
Justice Department prosecutors told jurors in their opening statement Tuesday that Bannon thought he was “above the law.” Wednesday’s testimony from a senior staffer on the House Jan. 6 committee and an FBI special agent, who testified — among other things — about Bannon’s posts on the right-leaning social media website GETTR.
Kristin Amerling, deputy staff director and general counsel of the Jan. 6 committee, told jurors that the House panel understood “that Mr. Bannon had been in communication with the president in the weeks leading up to the Jan. 6 events and we wanted to understand what he could tell us about the connection between any of these events.”
She testified that the committee determined that raising claims of executive privilege “was not a valid rationale for refusing to comply” with a congressional subpoena.
Under questioning from Bannon lawyer Evan Corcoran, Amerling said she hadn’t testified in a contempt of Congress trial before, but noted that was only because it’s so rare for people to defy a congressional committee like Bannon did.
“It’s very unusual for witnesses who receive a subpoena to say they will not comply, so there haven’t been occasions that I’ve been involved in to be a witness in a criminal contempt proceeding,” she said.
When FBI Special Agent Stephen Hart took the stand, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston asked him about posts on Bannon’s GETTR page from September and October of 2021. The September post was a link to a Rolling Stone article about Bannon’s subpoena and the October one was a link to a Daily Mail article about Bannon telling the Jan. 6 committee he wouldn’t comply with the subpoena.
The implication from prosecutors was that Bannon was not engaged in a good faith debate over executive privilege but instead was just blowing off the committee.
On cross examination, Hart was asked whether he was saying the posts were Bannon’s words. He said they were the words of either Bannon or someone with access to his account.
Gaston also asked Hart about a virtual meeting with Bannon lawyer Robert Costello and federal prosecutors that the FBI agent attended. Gaston asked if Costello suggested during the meeting that the dates on the subpoena had moved.
“No,” Hart replied.
“Did he suggest that defendant was mistaken about the deadlines?” Gaston asked. “Did he suggest that he was negotiating for a different date?”
Hart replied “no” to both questions.
Corcoran suggested Tuesday that the dates of the two subpoenas — one for documents, the other for testimony — were subject to negotiation.
The judge presiding over the trial, U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, has said the defense is largely limited to offering any evidence showing Bannon believed he was engaged in ongoing negotiations with the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack, and that the subpoena deadlines were “malleable.”
The defense will present its case Thursday before both sides present closing arguments and the jury begins deliberations. The Jan. 6 committee, meanwhile, is set to hold a prime-time hearing on Thursday.