Steve Bannon’s attorneys argued Tuesday that contempt of Congress charges against the former Trump adviser were politically motivated – but prosecutors countered that a subpoena from the House select committee looking into the Capitol riot “wasn’t optional.”
“It wasn’t a request, and it wasn’t an invitation. It was mandatory,” Assistant US Attorney Amanda Vaughn said during opening statements at Bannon’s contempt trial in Washington, DC. “[Bannon’s] failure to comply was deliberate. It wasn’t an accident, it wasn’t a mistake. It was a choice.”
Vaughn said Bannon believed he was “above the law.”
Bannon, 68, initially refused to cooperate with the select committee’s inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot where a pro-Trump crowd stormed the Capitol building to disrupt certification of Democrat Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 Presidential election.
The former Trump adviser had claimed “executive privilege” which protects certain presidential information from release, but Trump-appointed US District Judge Carl Nichols shot down that defense in a ruling last week.
Lawyers for Bannon claimed Tuesday that the former White House strategist was in in the midst of negotiations with the committee and believed a deadline for compliance had been flexible.
“No one ignored the subpoena,” attorney Evan Corcoran said. “They did what lawyers do. They negotiated.”
Corcoran said “politics invades every decision” the Democratic-controlled US House of Representatives makes, Politico reported.
“Ask yourself: Is this piece of evidence affected by politics?” he said, according to the news site.
Select committee general counsel Kristin Amerling went against the notion that the deadlines were in flux, with the committee’s authority ending with a new Congress set to take office in 2022.
“The select committee is looking at a violent assault on the United States Capitol, on law enforcement, on our democratic institutions. We have a limited amount of time,” said Amerling, the prosecution’s first witness, according to Reuters.
The committee wanted to speak to Bannon, who no longer worked for Trump at the time of the riot, about what he knew in advance of the siege. He made comments on a Jan. 5 podcast declaring “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow” after he had spoken to Trump earlier that day, the select committee revealed in a hearing last week.
Bannon’s trial is getting underway as the Jan. 6 committee continues with a series of live hearings that have produced allegations about the 45th president and his team ahead of the violence at the Capitol.
Jury selection in Bannon’s trial included attorneys questioning potential jurors about how much of the hearings they had viewed.
Bannon faces a minimum of 60 days in prison and up to two years behind bars if he’s convicted and could be fined as much as $2,000.
Get the latest updates on the indictment against Mark Ridley-Thomas and Marilyn Flynn! Will Karen Bass mayor be implicated in the bribery case against her former professors?