Former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon’s legal team opted not to present a defense case Thursday as the onetime White House strategist stands trial on two counts of contempt of Congress.
Attorney Evan Corcoran initially asked US District Judge Carl Nichols to issue a direct acquittal, insisting that the Justice Department had not proved the case against the former Breitbart executive chairman, before resting for the defense.
Nichols said he would rule later on the motion. The trial was due to resume later Thursday without the jury present.
If Nichols rejects Corcoran’s motion, the unorthodox maneuver boosts the chances that the jury could get the case by the end of Thursday, with a potential verdict before the end of this week.
Bannon’s legal team has argued that their client did not defy a subpoena from the House select committee investigating last year’s Capitol riot, claiming that the deadline for him to sit for a deposition and hand over documents was flexible as long as lawyers for both sides were negotiating.
In his motion, Corcoran took aim at Kristin Amerling, the panel’s chief counsel and the government’s key witness, saying it was “clear from her testimony that the [deadline] dates were in flux” and “no reasonable juror could conclude that Mr. Bannon refused to comply.”
During cross-examination, Corcoran had asked Amerling whether it was common for witnesses to appear before a congressional committee several weeks after the deadline date on a subpoena. Amerling answered “yes,” but added only “when witnesses are cooperating with the committee.”
Amerling claimed Bannon was uncooperative from the start, so he got no such leeway.
In fact, Corcoran argued, one of Bannon’s previous lawyers, Robert Costello, had contacted an attorney for the House committee to express some of Bannon’s concerns about testifying.
“They did what two lawyers do. They negotiated,” Corcoran said, adding that Bannon and his legal team believed “the dates of the subpoena were not fixed; they were flexible.”
Questioning the subpoena deadline is one of the few arguments Bannon’s team has left after Nichols blocked other potential avenues in pre-trial rulings.
Specifically, the judge barred the defense from calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and members of the Jan. 6 committee to the stand, prevented it from arguing that the select committee violated House rules by calling on Bannon to testify, and from claiming that Bannon ignored the subpoena on the advice of his counsel or at Trump’s direction.
The contempt of Congress charges stem from Bannon’s refusal to honor the subpoena last fall after he maintained he was protected by Trump’s claim of executive privilege.
However, the committee rejected that argument, citing the fact that Bannon was a private citizen at the time of the riot after being fired from his White House role in August 2017.
Earlier this month, Bannon reversed course, telling the committee he would testify after Trump told him he would waive the executive privilege.
However, federal prosecutors have insisted the former president never invoked the privilege to prevent Bannon from testifying in the first place.
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.