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Handing contempt case to jury, feds say Bannon chose Trump over rule of law

Jury deliberations have begun to decide if the former presidential adviser will be held criminally liable for snubbing a congressional subpoena.

WASHINGTON (CN) — Urging a jury to convict Steve Bannon of criminal contempt, the government said its case boils down to the straightforward conclusion that the conservative strategist sided with former President Donald Trump instead of the rule of law. 

“The defendant chose allegiance with Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” prosecutor Molly Gaston said in closing arguments on Friday. 

Bannon is charged in Washington with two counts of contempt after he failed to provide documents and testimony required by a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol. The committee is seeking information from him concerning the events leading up to Jan. 6, when Bannon was an unofficial adviser to the president, and Trump’s involvement in the insurrection. 

Gaston told the jury that, while this case is simple, it is important to the functioning of American democracy. 

“Our government only works if people show up and play by the rules,” she said. 

Gaston noted that Bannon made his intentions about noncompliance with the congressional subpoena clear in his posts on social media. The government also cites communications from Bannon’s legal team with the committee where he does not show any effort to comply. Gaston said Bannon had the opportunity to clear up any miscommunication when the committee warned him he would be charged with contempt if he did not produce documents and appear for testimony. Bannon did not do either. 

While the government leaned into Bannon’s connections to the former president, they maintained that the case is not about politics. 

“There’s nothing political about enforcing the law,” Gaston said. 

Bannon’s defense team contends, however, that the case was motivated by politics, as were the government witnesses. Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Bannon, attacked the credibility of Kristin Amerling, chief counsel for the Jan 6. committee, citing her ties to Democrats and the prosecution. Corcoran claimed Amerling was just unhappy that Bannon did not do what she wanted. 

“This is about Ms. Amerling saying people need to play by her rules,” Corcoran said. 

Corcoran presented the jury with different versions of a signature attributed to Congressman Bennie Thompson, who chairs the Jan. 6 committee, insinuating that Thompson might not have actually signed the subpoena to Bannon and that this would make the subpoena invalid. The government called it inappropriate meanwhile to compare electronic and handwritten signatures. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, said the jury could not take the signature variations into account when making their decision. 

Bannon’s defense also presented the jury with an alleged rules violation from the committee that Nichols said could not be taken into account. 

Corcoran said that, even if hindsight showed that Bannon and his then-attorney Robert Costello should have responded to the subpoena differently, their actual response was not a crime. As for Bannon’s failure to mount a defense in the case, Corcoran said they didn’t feel they needed to after the prosecution provided only two witnesses. The government said it only needed two witnesses because the case is simple. 

Corcoran urged the jury to see opportunities for doubt in the case. He told the jury that if they have any doubts about Bannon's guilt they need to voice them now so they won’t have regrets after the case is over.

“If you’ve got a doubt in mind, give Steve Bannon the benefit of the doubt,” Corcoran said. 

The government summed up Bannon’s defense as an effort to confuse the jury. 

“The defense wants to make this hard, difficult, confusing … you’re not missing anything,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn said. “This is not difficult.” 

Nichols has yet to rule on a motion for an acquittal from Bannon’s defense that was presented on Thursday.

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