Stephen K. Bannon ripped House Jan. 6 Committee Chairman Bennie G. Thompson as “gutless” for sending a staff member to testify as the prosecution’s first witness in the former Trump advisor’s criminal contempt of Congress trial in Washington.
Kristin Amerling, the Jan. 6 committee’s deputy staff director and chief counsel, began outlining the case against Mr. Bannon on Tuesday in federal court, as the long-delayed trial began in earnest after an arduous jury selection process and a spat over key evidence.
Mr. Bannon, speaking with a swarm of reporters and protesters later outside the courthouse, fired back at the Mississippi Democrat running the Jan. 6 panel.
“Bennie Thompson is a total, absolute disgrace, and this show trial they’re running is a disgrace,” Mr. Bannon said.
“He didn’t have the guts to show up here and he sent a staffer,” he said. “I challenge Bennie Thompson today to have the courage to come to this courthouse. If he’s going to charge somebody with a crime, he’s got to be man enough to show up here. It is outrageous.”
Mr. Bannon is on trial for criminal contempt of Congress after defying the Jan. 6 committee’s demands for documents and deposition in its probe of the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
The prosecution laid out what it said was a straightforward case of Mr. Bannon refusing to comply with a “legally enforceable order” to turn over documents and testimony after receiving a subpoena from the committee last fall.
“The defendant decided he was above the law,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Rose Vaughn told jurors.
She said the committee’s subpoena “wasn’t a request” but rather a “legally enforceable order,” and that Mr. Bannon rebuffed lawmakers after Congress set firm deadlines for him to appear and rejected his “excuses” for not complying.
Mr. Bannon argued after receiving the subpoena that the requested documents and testimony were protected under former President Donald Trump’s claims of executive privilege, which were, at the time the subject of a pending court battle.
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bannon willfully failed to comply with a subpoena seeking pertinent information.
Mr. Bannon’s legal team argued that Mr. Bannon did not ignore the subpoena and clearly communicated his reasoning to the committee behind his delay in turning material over in advance of the committee’s stated deadline laid out in the subpoena.
“It’s called negotiation,” Mr. Bannon’s lawyer Evan Corcoran told the jury.
The defense also moved to dispel the perception of Mr. Bannon as an operative of Mr. Trump’s, but rather as someone who has dedicated his life to serving the country.
The defense also moved in their opening statements to paint the Democrat-controlled committee as a partisan weapon being used to target the party’s political opponents.
“Politics is the lifeblood of the House of Representatives,” Mr. Corcoran said. “Politics affects every decision. It’s the currency of Congress.”
Following both teams’ opening statements the prosecution called Mrs. Amerling as its first witness for approximately one hour of questioning before adjourning for the day.
Ms. Amerling, who advised the committee on issuing Mr. Bannon his subpoena, testified to the urgency behind the committee’s subpoena, telling the jury that the committee had strict deadlines under which it sought information from witnesses.
Ms. Amerling also testified that the committee believed Mr. Bannon had multiple discussions with individuals leading up to the Capitol riot and played a role in Mr. Trump’s push to delay the certification of the November 2020 election.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols instructed the jury that Ms. Amerling’s statements concerning Mr. Bannon’s role leading up to the Capitol attack should not be taken as fact after the defense objected to the statements.
Judge Nichols placed the court in recess part way through Ms. Amerling’s testimony. She is expected to resume her testimony Wednesday.
Mr. Bannon, 68, has pleaded not guilty to the two counts of contempt of Congress. He could spend up to two years behind bars if convicted on both counts.
Mr. Bannon, who hosts the news and opinion broadcast “War Room: Pandemic,” insists the charges against him are politically motivated.
His legal team requested a delay in his trial last month in light of the “media blitz” surrounding the House committee’s hearings spanning June and July to unpack findings from its nearly yearlong investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
The committee plans to hold its final hearing in the series with a prime-time TV event Thursday, which could overlap with Mr. Bannon’s trial.
Before the trial commenced, Mr. Corcoran said the fanfare infringes on his right to a fair trial unblemished by outside findings and presuppositions formed from the public hearings. Mr. Corcoran also said that several of the findings produced by the committee in the hearings specifically referenced Mr. Bannon and matters material to his case without allowing him to respond.
Of the dozens of potential jurors interviewed in the courtroom on Monday, roughly three said they were not aware of the House Jan. 6 committee. The jury pool included family and friends of Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, scores of eager consumers of left-leaning news media, and at least one resident of the District of Columbia who acknowledged he already knew Mr. Bannon was guilty.
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