By Sarah N. Lynch
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors are due to make their final appearance before juries on Friday to convict Steve Bannon, a former presidential adviser to Donald Trump, on charges of contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the committee investigating last year’s attack on the US Capitol.
The prosecution and defense are expected to deliver closing arguments to the 12-member jury in federal court, with deliberations expected to begin later. The defense rested its case on Thursday without calling any witnesses after the prosecution rested on Wednesday, having called two witnesses for two days.
Bannon, 68, pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor charges after refusing a House select committee subpoena seeking testimony and documents as part of its investigation into the Jan. 6, 2021, riot by Trump supporters trying to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Prosecutors said they expect their arguments to last about 30 minutes, plus 15 for rebuttal. The defense said it plans to take about the same amount of time to present its arguments.
The defense made motions to U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols asking him to either acquit Bannon, arguing the prosecution was unable to prove his case, or dismiss the charges because his attorneys were prevented from calling lawmakers who are committee members as witnesses. Such motions seeking acquittals and dismissals at the end of a trial are common and rarely granted.
David Schoen, one of Bannon’s attorneys, told Nichols that Bannon wanted to testify at trial but chose not to because of limits the judge placed on the type of arguments the defendant could make.
Bannon was barred from arguing that he believed his communications with Trump were subject to a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential. The judge also barred Bannon from arguing that he relied on legal advice from an attorney to refuse to comply.
Bannon’s main defense at trial was that he believed the subpoena deadlines were flexible and subject to negotiation between his attorney and the committee.
Schoen told Nichols on Thursday that he felt Bannon’s attorneys had been “very hampered in being able to present a defense” because some of the judge’s pre-trial rulings limited the scope of their arguments. Nichols responded that some of his rulings were subject to legal precedents “that I don’t even think are correct.”
The main prosecution witness was Kristin Amerling, a member of the committee’s staff. She testified Wednesday that Bannon ignored both subpoena deadlines, did not seek extensions and offered an invalid justification for his challenge: a claim by Trump involving a legal doctrine called executive privilege that can keep certain presidential communications confidential.
Trump supporters stormed the Capitol and attacked police in a failed effort to block formal Congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden, which Trump falsely claims was the result of widespread voter fraud. Bannon was a key adviser to Trump’s presidential campaign in 2016 and then served in 2017 as his top White House strategist.
Bannon has spoken only once in court during the entire trial. He said, “Yes, your honor,” when Nichols asked if he agreed not to testify.
Outside the courthouse, Bannon has been unleashed in front of television cameras. On Thursday, Bannon told reporters that he has probably testified in several cases “more than anyone in the Trump administration” and that in those cases the lawyers “always negotiated and settled.”
“One last thing. I stand with Trump and the Constitution,” Bannon added.
(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Additional reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Will Dunham)