Bannon’s Jury Defence: Politics Fueled Jan. 6 Contempt Charge

“Ask yourself: is this piece of evidence affected by politics? said the defense attorney.

The prosecution, on the other hand, described the case against Bannon as extremely simple: the Jan. 6 select committee issued a binding directive for Bannon to appear – part of an effort to understand and remedy the causes of the violent attack on Congress last year – and Bannon refused.

No claim of privilege or excuse warrants Bannon’s challenge, Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn said, and his conduct crossed the criminal line.

“At the end of this case, you might think this whole thing is just about a guy who refused to show up? Yes. It’s as simple as that,” Vaughn said.

“Ours is a nation of laws, and our system doesn’t work if people think they’re above them,” the prosecutor told the jury of nine men and five women, including alternates. “Our system can’t do the job…if citizens can just ignore government orders.”

Without dwelling on the events of Jan. 6, Vaughn told jurors that Bannon seemed to predict on a podcast a day earlier that something bad would unfold at the Capitol the next day. She also said Bannon’s challenge undermined the work of the House committee to get to the bottom of the violence that erupted and what led to it.

“The defendant prevented the government from getting the important information it needed about what happened on January 6 and how to ensure it never happened again. That, ladies and gentlemen, ignoring a lawful order, a subpoena from the United States government, from Congress, is a crime,” she said.

The full story behind Bannon’s refusal, however, is more complex. His lawyer argued to Congress that the subpoena breached former President Donald Trump’s executive privilege, though the committee said Trump never properly asserted it. In recent days, Trump backed down from that claim and Bannon expressed his willingness to testify, though he insisted he would only do so in a public hearing, not a deposition. in camera.

Jurors are expected to see letters exchanged by Bannon’s attorneys and the panel, but U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols ruled that legal precedent bars Bannon from arguing in the criminal case that the fight for privilege l He apologized for complying with the subpoena and arguing that his attorney’s legal advice meant he had no criminal intent.

“The sense of privilege asserted by the defendant … is really irrelevant for our purposes,” Vaughn told jurors during his opening. She also twice objected to defense references to politics, but Nichols allowed Corcoran to pursue that message to the jury.

Tuesday’s arguments brought together the first prosecution witness in the case: the Jan. 6 panel’s chief counsel, Kristin Amerling. The Capitol Hill veteran spoke on Tuesday afternoon and is expected to return Wednesday morning in a case that prosecutors say could reach the jury by the weekend.

Amerling gave jurors more direct reminders of the Jan. 6 events, calling it a “brutal assault” that injured police officers and left “a few” dead. She also said it underscored why the blockage undermined the panel’s ability to carry out its task.

“There is an urgent need to focus on the work of the select committee,” Amerling said. “The Select Committee is reviewing the violent assault on the United States Capitol against law enforcement officials, against our democratic institutions, and we have a limited time to gather information.”

She also provided the basic facts behind the contempt case against Bannon, including how the subpoena was issued and the fact that he never showed up at the appointed time or submission of documents.

As Bannon left the courthouse after the first trial testimony, he unleashed a barrage of verbal attacks on the House committee and lamented the unfairness of his trial. Such emphasis on the part of the defendants in the middle of a jury trial is highly unusual and could provoke a violent reaction from the judge handling the case.

“This is outrageous,” Bannon shouted, denouncing a range of figures involved with the House panel, including its chairman, Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).

“Bennie Thompson is a total and utter disgrace, and this show trial they’re holding is a disgrace,” Bannon said. He castigated the committee members for their lack of “courage and courage” to testify at trial and instead sent staffers like Amerling. “They should be here, the senior committee officials,” Bannon said.

Bannon has also used the bank of television cameras to snap photos of his political opponents, like President Joe Biden, and to continue pushing the baseless voter fraud allegations that fueled the Jan. 6 violence.

“We have a constitutional crisis in this country right now,” Bannon said. “Trump won. Joe Biden is illegitimate.

The start of the trial followed weeks of intense wrangling between the Justice Department and Bannon’s legal team over what evidence would be allowed during the trial.

Opening arguments were delayed for hours on Tuesday after disagreements and confusion erupted during a hearing to determine how many jurors would be told about the back and forth between the congressional panel and Bannon’s attorney on executive privilege and other matters.

Although Nichols ruled Bannon could not argue in the criminal case that he chose not to comply with the subpoena because he believed executive privilege or other immunities allowed him To challenge her, the judge allowed a potential defense: that Bannon believed the time frame to respond to the subpoena was flexible because his attorney was still in talks with the panel or past experiences indicated those dates weren’t solid.

“It seems pretty clear to me that I had left open the possibility … that Mr. Bannon could present evidence that he did not understand that the return dates were firm for various reasons,” said Nichols, a Trump appointee. .

Bannon’s defense team argued Tuesday that leaving those explanations in the letters would confuse the jury – especially since the judge ruled that Bannon was not allowed to present most of the evidence related to his view of privilege. executive.

Nichols said he was prepared to allow some mention of the privilege claim as an explanation for any confusion on Bannon’s part regarding the delay, but the judge suggested that the letters Bannon exchanged with the committee be redacted to remove the substance of privilege arguments.

Corcoran said the judge’s clarifications on Tuesday amounted to a “seismic shift” in the case that merited delaying the trial for a month to allow the defense team to reset their case. Nichols denied the proposed postponement, a week after rejecting an earlier defense request for a three-month postponement of the trial due to publicity related to House committee hearings on Jan. 6.

“I’m very concerned about on-the-fly redaction of documents and trying to keep track of how it affects the case,” Corcoran said.

Ultimately, Bannon’s attorneys essentially acquiesced, agreeing that given previous rulings in the case, the letters containing Bannon’s claims of executive privilege and the committee’s counterarguments could be shown to the jury in their entirety.

That means jurors will likely see privilege arguments made by Bannon’s lawyer last year, but Nichols will later ask them to disregard those arguments.

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