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No witnesses called to defend Bannon on contempt charges

The former presidential adviser snubbed a subpoena from House lawmakers investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection and will not testify about his decision. 

WASHINGTON (CN) — After the government rested its criminal contempt case against Steve Bannon, defense attorneys for the former unofficial presidential adviser opted Thursday not to call any witnesses or provide any additional evidence on Bannon’s behalf. 

“Our view is we have been stymied in presenting a defense in the case,” David Schoen, one of Bannon’s lawyers, said. 

U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee, said his previous rulings that blocked large parts of Bannon’s defense were required by precedent. 

“I was bound by D.C. Circuit precedent that I’m not even sure was right,” Nichols said. 

Bannon is facing contempt of Congress charges for failing to comply with a subpoena from the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection at the Capitol.

The founder of the 25-year-old conservative news site Breitbart has maintained that Robert Costello, his attorney at the time he was subpoenaed, advised him that he was not allowed to testify before the committee because of executive privilege. 

Schoen on Thursday said Bannon wanted to testify at trial, but he was instructed by his lawyers to decline because he “would be barred from telling the facts.”

Bannon’s attorneys filed a motion for acquittal, claiming the prosecution's case hinged solely on testimony from Jan. 6 committee chief counsel Kristin Amerling. Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Bannon, attacked Amerling’s credibility when the prosecution called her as a witness Wednesday. While Amerling testified that the subpoena deadlines provided to Bannon were fixed, Corcoran claims the evidence proves they were in flux. 

Corcoran also took issue with Amerling’s testimony concerning who authored the subpoena and subsequent letters to Bannon. Amerling said the documents were a collaborative effort from the committee but were signed by Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson. 

Bannon’s defense team wanted Thompson and other members of the Jan. 6 committee to testify about their motivations for subpoenaing Bannon. When asked which and how many lawmakers Bannon’s team wanted to question, Schoen said all of them but they would compromise with just Thompson. 

“We’re not greedy,” Schoen said. “It would suffice to have Chairman Thompson here.” 

Bannon’s defense team said Bannon was “handcuffed” and unable to tell his side so he needed the committee members to provide that information. 

Schoen specifically called out Representatives Adam Schiff and Jamie Raskin, who he claimed needed to testify to clear up conflict-of-interest issues over books they have written on Jan. 6. 

The defense said the subpoena deadline could have been moved if it were not for the bias of members of the committee. 

“Maybe they would move the dates if it wasn’t about posturing,” Schoen said. 

Nichols questioned how Thompson’s testimony would tell the jury about Bannon’s understanding of the subpoena deadlines since Bannon could not have known anything outside of what was in the letters sent to him. 

“The letter is the letter,” Nichols said. “What does Mr. Thompson’s testimony tell us about Mr. Bannon’s mens rea?”

The government said it didn’t think they could compel the committee members to testify because the committee is part of another branch of government. Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn said testimony from the committee lawyer should be sufficient and noted that CEOs aren’t required to testify in cases brought against their companies. 

The jury, who were not present for any proceedings on Thursday, was dismissed with a warning from Nichols to not watch any television or videos or read anything related to the case. The Jan. 6 committee is holding a prime-time hearing Thursday night. 

The trial will resume on Friday with closing arguments from both sides. 

Follow @KelseyReichmann
Categories / Criminal, Government, Politics, Trials

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