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Bannon trial live updates: Defense says Bannon was in ongoing negotiations with committee

Win McNamee/Getty Images

(WASHINGTON) — Steve Bannon, who served as former President Donald Trump’s chief strategist before departing the White House in August 2017, is on trial for defying a subpoena from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

Bannon was subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 panel for records and testimony in September of last year, with the committee telling him it had “reason to believe that you have information relevant to understanding activities that led to and informed the events at the Capitol on January 6, 2021.”

After the House of Representatives voted to hold him in contempt for defying the subpoena, the Justice Department in November charged Bannon with two counts of criminal contempt of Congress, setting up this week’s trial.

Here is how the news is developing. All times are Eastern:

Jul 20, 4:39 PM EDT
Defense says Bannon was in ongoing negotiations with committee

As his cross-examination of Jan. 6 committee staffer Kirstin Amerling wrapped up, defense attorney Evan Corcoran continued to frame Bannon’s noncompliance with the subpoena as happening at a time when Bannon’s attorney was still in negotiations with the committee.

Amerling, however, testified that Bannon wasn’t in negotiations because there was nothing to negotiate — Trump hadn’t actually asserted executive privilege, Amerling said, so there was no outstanding issue to resolve. And she said that the committee had made clear to Bannon repeatedly that there were no legal grounds for his refusal to turn over documents and testify before the committee.

Corcoran showed the jury the letter that Trump sent to Bannon on July 9, 2022 — just two weeks ago — in which Trump said he would waive executive privilege so Bannon could testify before the committee. He also displayed the letter that Bannon’s former attorney, Robert Costello, sent the committee on the same day saying that Bannon was now willing to testify in a public hearing.

But Amerling then read aloud from the letter that the committee sent to Costello in response, noting that Bannon’s latest offer “does not change the fact that Mr. Bannon failed to follow [proper] process and failed to comply with the Select Committee’s subpoena prior to the House referral of the contempt resolution concerning Mr. Bannon’s defiance of the subpoena.”

Prosecutor Amanda Vaughn noted that before two weeks ago, Bannon never offered to comply with the subpoena, even after being told repeatedly by the committee last year that his claims had no basis in law and that he could face prosecution; even after he was found in contempt of Congress in October last year; even after he was criminally charged a month later for contempt of Congress; and even after a lawsuit related to executive privilege had been resolved by the Supreme Court six months ago.

Amerling testified that had Bannon complied with the subpoena in time, the committee would have had “at least nine months of additional time” to review the information, and now there are “five or so months” left of the committee.

“So as opposed to having 14 in total, the committee only now has five?” Corcoran asked.

“That’s correct,” said Amerling.

Jul 20, 3:48 PM EDT
Defense argues Bannon was constrained by questions over executive privilege

In the defense’s ongoing cross examination of Jan. 6 committee staffer Kirstin Amerling, attorney Evan Corcoran continued to stress how Bannon was prevented from testifying due to the right of executive privilege that protects confidential communication with members of the executive branch.

But Amerling testified that there are two main issues with such a claim.

First, she said, some of what the subpoena requested “had nothing to do with communication with the former president” and “could not possibly be reached by executive privilege” — especially Bannon’s communications with campaign advisers, members of Congress and other private parties, as well as information related to Bannon’s podcast, she testified.

In addition, despite what others may have said, “The president had not formally or informally invoked executive privilege,” Amerling said. “It hadn’t been invoked.”

Yet Bannon still refused to comply with the subpoena, despite having no legal grounds to do so, she said.

Amerling reiterated that by the time the committee met to decide whether to pursue contempt charges, “there had been extensive back-and-forth already between the select committee and the defendant’s attorney about the issue of executive privilege, and the select committee had made its position clear.”

Corcoran also argued that Bannon didn’t comply with the subpoena right away because he expected the deadline would ultimately change, due to the fact that it’s common for subpoena deadlines to shift.

Amerling, however, testified that Bannon’s situation was different.

“When witnesses are cooperating with the committee and indicate they are willing to provide testimony, it is not unusual to have some back-and-forth about the dates that they will appear,” she said. However, she said, “it is very unusual for witnesses who receive a subpoena to say outright they will not comply.”

In his questions, Corcoran also suggested that Amerling might be a biased witness, noting that she had donated to Democratic causes in the past, and that she is a member of the same book club as one of the prosecutors in the case, Molly Gaston.

“So you’re in a book club with the prosecutor in this case?” Corcoran asked.

“We are,” Amerling replied.

Amerling said that it had been some time — perhaps as much as a year or more — since she and Gaston both attended a meeting of the club. But she conceded that, with the types of people who are in the book club, it was “not unusual that we would talk about politics in some way or another.”

Jul 20, 12:55 PM EDT
Defense attorney presses Jan. 6 staffer on timing of subpoena deadline

Under cross-examination from Bannon defense attorney Evan Corcoran, House Jan. 6 committee senior staffer Kristin Amerling was pressed on why the committee set the deadlines it did for Bannon to comply with the subpoena — especially since “the select committee is still receiving and reviewing documents” now, Corcoran said.

Corcoran pressed Amerling over who specifically decided that Bannon should have to produce documents by 10 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2021, and who specifically decided that Bannon should have to appear for a deposition on Oct. 14, 2021.

Amerling said that the “process” of drafting the subpoena involved many people, including senior staff like herself, but it was all ultimately approved by committee Chairman Bennie Thompson.

“To the best of my recollection, because of the multiple roles that we understood Mr. Bannon potentially had with respect to the events of Jan. 6, at the time that we put the subpoena together, there was a general interest in obtaining information from him expeditiously, because we believed this information could potentially lead us to other relevant witnesses or other relevant documents,” Amerling said. “There was general interest in including deadlines that required expeditious response.”

“The committee authorization is just through the end of this year,” so it is operating under “a very tight timeframe,” she said.

Corcoran also said he wanted to made clear to the jury that, as he put it, “in this case, there is no allegation that Steve Bannon was involved in the attack” on the Capitol.

Earlier, Amerling testified that the committee tried to give Bannon “an opportunity” to explain his “misconduct” in ignoring the subpoena and to provide “information that might shed light on his misconduct, such as he might have been confused” about the subpoena — but Bannon never presented any such explanation or information before he was found in contempt, she said.

Jul 20, 11:17 AM EDT
Jan. 6 staffer says panel ‘rejected the basis’ for Bannon’s privilege claim

Kristin Amerling, a senior staffer on the House Jan. 6 committee, returned to the stand to continue her testimony from Tuesday. She testified that Bannon was clearly informed that any claims of privilege were rejected by the committee, and that his non-compliance “would force” the committee to refer the matter to the Justice Department for prosecution.

She said the subpoena issued to Bannon indicated he was “required to produce” records encompassing 17 specific categories, including records related to the Jan. 6 rally near the White House, his communications with Trump allies and several right-wing groups, his communications with Republican lawmakers, and information related to his “War Room” podcast.

The committee was seeking to understand “the relationships or potential relationships between different individuals and organizations that played a role in Jan. 6,” Amerling said. “We wanted to ask him what he knew.”

Asked by prosecutor Amanda Vaughn if Bannon provided any records to the committee by the deadline of 10 a.m. on Oct. 7, 2021, Amerling replied, “He did not.”

“Did the committee get anything more than radio silence by 10 a.m. on Oct. 7?” Vaughn asked.

“No,” said Amerling.

Amerling said that in a correspondence she received that day at about 5 p.m. — after the deadline had passed — Bannon’s attorney at the time, Robert Costello, claimed that Trump had “announced his intention to assert” executive privilege, which Costello said at the time rendered Bannon “unable to respond” to the subpoena “until these issues are resolved.”

But the next day, Amerling recalled on the stand, she sent Costello a letter from Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson, “explaining that the committee rejected the basis that he had offered for refusing to comply.”

“Did the letter also tell the defendant he still had to comply?” Vaughn asked Amerling.

“Yes, it did.” Amerling said.

“Did the letter warn the defendant what might happen if he failed to comply with the subpoena?” Vaughn asked.

“Yes, it did,” said Amerling.

The letter was “establishing a clear record of the committee’s views, making sure the defendant was aware of that,” Amerling testified.

Jul 20, 10:06 AM EDT
Judge won’t let trial become ‘political circus,’ he says

Federal prosecutors in Steve Bannon’s contempt trial raised concerns with the judge that Bannon’s team has been suggesting to the jury that this is a “politically motivated prosecution” before the second day of testimony got underway Wednesday morning.

Before the jury was brought in, prosecutor Amanda Vaughn asked U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols to make sure the jury “doesn’t hear one more word about this case being” politically motivated, after she said the defense’s opening statement Tuesday had “clear implications” that the defense was making that claim.

Nichols had barred such arguments from the trial.

In response, defense attorney Evan Corcoran defended his opening statement, saying it “was clearly on the line.”

Nichols then made it clear that during trial, the defense team may ask witnesses questions about whether they themselves may be biased — “but may not ask questions about whether someone else was biased in an action they took outside this courtroom.”

“I do not intend for this to become a political case, a political circus,” Nichols said.

Jul 19, 6:14 PM EDT
Bannon, outside courtroom, criticizes Jan. 6 panel

Speaking to reporters after the first full day in court, Bannon blasted members of the Jan. 6 committee and House Democrats for not showing up as witnesses in his trial.

“Where is Bennie Thompson?” asked Bannon regarding the Jan. 6 committee chairman. “He’s made it a crime, not a civil charge … have the guts and the courage to show up here and say exactly why it’s a crime.”

“I will promise you one thing when the Republicans that are sweeping to victory on Nov. 8 — starting in January, you’re going to get a real committee,” Bannon said. “We’re going to get a real committee with a ranking member who will be a Democrat … and this will be run
appropriately and the American people will get the full story.”

-Laura Romero and Soo Rin Kim

Jul 19, 5:23 PM EDT
A subpoena isn’t voluntary, says prosecution witness

The first witness for the prosecution, Kristin Amerling of the Jan. 6 committee, testified that a subpoena is not voluntary.

Amerling, the Jan. 6 panel’s deputy staff director and chief counsel, read aloud the congressional resolution creating the committee and explained that the committee’s role is to recommend “corrective measures” to prevent future attacks like the one on Jan. 6.

“Is a subpoena voluntary in any way?” asked prosecutor Amanda Vaughn.

“No,” Amerling replied.

Amerling also discussed how important it is to get information in a timely manner because the committee’s authority runs out at the end of the year. “There is an urgency to the focus of the Select Committee’s work … we have a limited amount of time in which to gather information,” she said.

Amerling noted that Bannon was subpoenaed pretty early on in the committee’s investigation.

She said the committee subpoenaed Bannon in particular because public accounts indicated that Bannon tried to persuade the public that the 2020 election was “illegitimate”; that on his podcast the day before Jan. 6 he made statements “including that all hell was going to break loose, that suggested he might have some advance knowledge of the events of Jan. 6”; that he was involved in discussions with White House officials, including Trump himself, relating to “strategies surrounding the events of Jan. 6”; and that he had been involved in discussions in the days leading up to Jan. 6 with “private parties who had gathered in the Willard hotel in Washington, D.C., reportedly to discuss strategies around efforts to interfere with the peaceful transfer of power or overturning the election results.”

“Is that something that would have been relevant to the committee’s investigation?” Vaughn asked.

“Yes, because the Select Committee was tasked with trying to understand what happened on Jan. 6, and why,” Amerling replied.

Amerling will be back on the stand Wednesday morning when the trial resumes.

Jul 19, 3:55 PM EDT
Defense tells jury ‘there was no ignoring the subpoena’

Bannon’s defense attorney Matt “Evan” Corcoran said in his opening statement that “no one ignored the subpoena” issued to Bannon, and that “there was direct engagement by Bob Costello,” Bannon’s attorney, with the House committee, specifically committee staffer Kristin Amerling.

He said Costello “immediately” communicated to the committee that there was an objection to the subpoena, “and that Steve Bannon could not appear and that he could not provide documents.”

“So there was no ignoring the subpoena,” Corcoran said. What followed was “a considerable back and forth” between Amerling and Costello — “they did what two lawyers do, they negotiated.”

Corcoran said, “the government wants you to believe … that Mr. Bannon committed a crime by not showing up to a congressional hearing room … but the evidence is going to be crystal clear no one, no one believed Mr. Bannon was going to appear on Oct. 14, 2021,” and the reasons he couldn’t appear had been articulated to the committee.

Corcoran told the jury that the government has to prove beyond a reasonable that Steve Bannon willfully defaulted when he didn’t appear for the deposition on Oct. 14, 2021 — “but you’ll find from the evidence that that date on the subpoena was the subject of ongoing discussions” and it was not “fixed.”

In addition, Corcoran told jurors, you will hear that “almost every single one” of the witnesses subpoenaed led to negotiations between committee staff and lawyers, and often the appearance would be at a later date than what was on the subpoena.

Corcoran also argued that the prosecution may have been infected by politics, telling the jury that with each document or each statement provided at trial, they should ask themselves: “Is this piece of evidence affected by politics?”

Jul 19, 3:31 PM EDT
Prosecutors say Bannon’s failure to comply was deliberate

Continuing her opening statement, federal prosecutor Amanda Vaughn told the jury that the subpoena to Bannon directed him to provide documents by the morning of Oct. 7, 2021, and to appear for a deposition the morning of Oct. 14, 2021 — but instead he had an attorney, Robert Costello, send a letter to the committee informing the committee that he would not comply “in any way,” she said.

“The excuse the defendant gave for not complying” was the claim that “a privilege” meant he didn’t have to turn over certain information, Vaughn said. “[But] it’s not up to the defendant or anyone else to decide if he can ignore the [request] based on a privilege, it’s up to the committee.”

And, said Vaughn, the committee clearly told Bannon that “your privilege does not get you out of this one, you have to provide documents, and you have to come to your deposition.” And importantly, she said, the committee told Bannon that “a refusal to comply” could result in criminal prosecution.

“You will see, the defendant’s failure to comply was deliberate here,” Vaughn told the jury. “The only verdict that is supported by the evidence here: that the defendant showed his contempt for the U.S. Congress, and that he’s guilty.”

Jul 19, 2:58 PM EDT
Prosecution begins opening statements

Federal prosecutor Amanda Vaughn began opening statements by saying, “In September of last year, Congress needed information from the defendant, Steve Bannon. … Congress needed to know what the defendant knew about the events of Jan. 6, 2021. … Congress had gotten information that the defendant might have some details about the events leading up to that day and what occurred that day.”

So, Vaughn told the jury, Congress gave Bannon a subpoena “that mandated” he provide any information he might have.

“Congress was entitled to the information it sought, it wasn’t optional,” Vaughn said. “But as you will learn in this trial, the defendant refused to hand over the information he might have.”

Vaughn said Bannon ignored “multiple warnings” that he could face criminal prosecution for refusing to comply with the subpoena and for preventing the government from getting “important information.”

“The defendant decided he was above the law and decided he didn’t need to follow the government’s orders,” she said.

Jul 19, 2:51 PM EDT
Judge instructs jury of the burden of proof

Prior to opening statements, the judge made clear to the jury that the Justice Department has the burden to prove four distinct elements “beyond a reasonable doubt”:

(1) that Bannon was in fact subpoenaed for testimony and/or documents;

(2) that the testimony and/or documents were “pertinent” to the Jan. 6 committee’s investigation;

(3) that Bannon “failed to comply or refused to comply” with the subpoena;

(4) that the “failure or refusal to comply was willful.”

Jul 19, 2:44 PM EDT
Jury sworn in after judge denies continuance

A 14-member jury has been sworn in for the contempt trial of ex-Trump strategist Steve Bannon.

Of the 14 jurors, nine are men and five are women.

The swearing-in of the jury comes after U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols denied the defense’s request for a one-month delay of the trial, which attorneys for Bannon argued was necessary due to a “seismic shift in the understanding of the parties” of what the government’s evidence will be.

“We have a jury that is just about picked,” Nichols said in denying the request for a one-month continuance.

One of the jurors, a man who works for an appliance company, said Monday during jury selection that he watched the first Jan. 6 committee hearing and believes the committee is “trying to find the truth about what happened” on Jan. 6.

Another juror, a man who works as a maintenance manager for the Washington, D.C., Parks and Recreation department, said he believes what happened on Jan. 6 “doesn’t make sense.”

Another juror, a woman who works as a photographer for NASA, said “a lot” of her “photographer friends were at the Capitol” on Jan. 6, and she has watched some of the Jan. 6 hearings on the news.

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