WASHINGTON — A jury on Friday began deliberating the fate of former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is facing two counts of contempt of Congress for blowing off the Jan. 6 select committee.
If convicted, Bannon would face a mandatory minimum sentence of 30 days incarceration and up to one year behind bars. He could also be fined between $100 and $100,000.
“This case is not complicated, but it is important,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston told jurors during closing arguments on Friday.
Bannon, Gaston argued, “did not want to recognize Congress’ authority” or play by the government’s rules.
The Justice Department has tried to simplify this case, telling jurors that Bannon didn’t turn over documents and testify before the Jan. 6 committee when he was required to do so in October 2021 because he thought he was “above the law.” The prosecution called two witnesses — a Jan. 6 committee staff member and a FBI special agent — and rested their case on Wednesday.
Bannon’s team declined to put on a defense on Thursday, but has made clear they’re planning for appeal if he is convicted. In closing arguments, Bannon lawyer Evan Corcoran questioned whether the committee’s subpoenas were actually signed by Chairman Bennie Thompson and raised what he called “a serious question” about a witness’ participation in a book club.
Judge Carl Nichols repeatedly refused to delay Bannon’s trial despite the defense team’s contention that publicly from the Jan. 6 committee hearings would impact the jury pool and their contention that Bannon was barred from testifying due to Trump’s purported claims of executive privilege. A jury was seated on Tuesday morning.
In closings, the government said that Congress had good reason to want to investigate what happened during the Jan. 6 attack, and how an attack like that could be prevented in the future.
“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 said.
Gaston said that the subpoena was not complicated and that Bannon chose not to cooperate. She cited Bannon’s quote to the Daily Mail after he was issued the subpoenas.
“I stand with Trump and the Constitution,” Bannon told the Daily Mail.
Gaston told jurors that the laws relating to contempt of Congress were strict for a reason and that Bannon knew that his executive privilege claim had been rejected.
“His belief that he had a good excuse not to comply does not matter,” Gannon said. “The defendant chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law.”
Bannon “had contempt for Congress” and the name of the crime he is charged with tells you everything you need to know, Gaston said. The only person making this case political, she continued, is the defendant.
“There is nothing political about finding out why Jan. 6 happened, and how to make sure it never happens again,” Gaston said.
Bannon lawyer Evan Corcoran, in his own closing, told jurors that they need to put Jan. 6 out of their minds when deliberating this case.
Bannon’s defense team has made clear that they are creating a record so that they can appeal any conviction to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit.
Corcoran tried to raise doubts about whether the subpoena signed by Jan. 6 committee chair Rep. Bennie Thompson was actually signed by Thompson, comparing his signature on the document to other versions of his signature. The government objected, and after all parties discussed the matter with the judge, Corcoran quickly moved on.
Corcoran said that the senior committee staffer who testified to the jury wanted to make an example of Steve Bannon because he had a popular podcast and because he was a former adviser to Trump.
Corcoran also raised the fact that the committee staffer and Gaston vaguely knew each other from a book club, although it was clear in court that they did not have a close personal relationship and hadn’t crossed paths in years.
“Make no mistake, I’m not against book clubs,” he told the jury. But, he insisted while maintaining a straight face, “it’s a serious question.”
Corcoran also brought up a recent letter from President Trump about executive privilege, even though the committee had told Bannon’s lawyer that the purported privilege claim was not an excuse not to show up to testify. In fact, many senior Trump White House officials testified before the committee and Steve Bannon hasn’t served in the White House since 2017.
“Prosecutors are basically saying that you have no choice, but you do have a choice,” Corcoran told jurors.
On rebuttal, the government told jurors that they shouldn’t wonder what they’re missing in the case. “You’re not missing anything. This is not difficult. This is not hard. There were two witnesses because it’s as simple as it seems,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn. “How much clearer could that subpoena have been?”
Bannon “yelled it from the mountain top” that he was not complying with the subpoenas, Vaughn said.
Bannon “thinks his authority as one man is greater than our government’s, the one that we have all consented to,” Vaughn said.
“That’s the definition of contempt,” Vaughn told jurors.