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Bannon trial: House Jan. 6 committee’s top lawyer says it’s ‘highly unusual’ to outright ignore congressional subpoenas

Washington – The government in former Trump strategist The criminal contempt of Steve Bannon The trial ended Wednesday afternoon after a day and a half of arguments.

The House Select Committee’s chief counsel investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol told jurors it is “very unusual” for witnesses to receive a congressional subpoena not to comply, and the committee viewed Bannon’s removal to the Justice Department for criminal contempt of Congress as a “very serious step”.

Kristin Amerling said the committee wanted information from Bannon on 17 key topics — ranging from his communications with former President Donald Trump to his knowledge of coordination among far-right groups in carrying out the attack — and needed it fast.

“This information could potentially lead us to other relevant witnesses or other relevant documents,” she said in court Wednesday.

APTOPIX Capitol Riot Bannon Trial
Former White House strategist Steve Bannon arrives in federal court in Washington, Wednesday, July 20, 2022. Bannon was arraigned on two federal charges of criminal contempt of Congress after he refused to cooperate with the committee of the House investigating the United States Capitol insurrection. January 6, 2021.

Manuel Balce Ceneta / AP

Trump’s former White House strategist is on trial for criminal contempt of Congress after he allegedly refused to cooperate with a September 2021 congressional subpoena requiring him to sit for a deposition and turn over relevant documents to the committee investigation.

Prosecutors questioned Amerling about Bannon’s subpoena, his communication with his then-lawyer — Robert Costello — regarding the demands, and the various procedures in place to help Bannon comply with the demand or resolve any disputes. .

Amerling, who said she was deeply involved in drafting and serving the subpoena, said she first emailed Costello the subpoena to Bannon in September. Bannon, Amerling said, never asked for an extension and did not respond to the request.

During cross-examination, Amerling said she and one of the prosecutors in the Bannon case, Molly Gaston, “overlapped” each other while serving on a congressional committee under a Democratic president. and that they were now part of the same book club. Amerling said she hasn’t attended a book club meeting in about a year and neither has Gaston, but most members are connected through the same congressional committee, and it’s “not unusual for we were talking politics one way or another.”

When questioned by prosecutors, Amerling said she had no personal relationship with Gaston.

Amerling was also pressed about her party affiliation, testifying that she had donated to Democratic causes or candidates in the past.

The revelations came after a morning in which Judge Carl Nichols urged Bannon’s lawyers to avoid bringing politics into the courtroom after prosecutors raised concerns in opening statements. of Tuesday.

“I don’t intend for this to become a political thing, a political circus,” Nichols said Wednesday. He then allowed Bannon’s team to question Amerling about his affiliation and relationship with the prosecutor.

At the time the committee issued the subpoena, Bannon argued that Trump exercised executive privilege over his testimony, which prevented Bannon from complying with congressional orders.

But in court on Wednesday, Amerling said Trump never presented the committee with a statement saying Bannon could be immune from congressional investigation because of his closeness to the Trump administration.

“There had been no assertion, formal or informal, of executive privilege,” Amerling told Bannon’s defense attorney, Evan Corcoran. Several federal courts, including the Supreme Courtdenied Trump’s claims of executive privilege challenges to the select committee’s power.

Amerling explained that she and Costello engaged in a “substantial back and forth” over Bannon’s decision not to testify due to executive privilege and the committee alerted Costello that Bannon would be considered “non- willful compliance” if the subpoena remains unanswered. The committee, she said, would not have recognized the claim of executive privilege.

The House vote to hold Bannon in criminal contempt of Congress in October, referring the case to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in DC for investigation. Bannon was later indicted by a federal grand jury and pleaded not guilty to two counts of contempt.

Bannon told the Jan. 6 committee last week in an about-face that he was ready to testify — publicly — after Costello said Trump reversed course on his executive privilege claims.

Prosecutors tried to block Bannon’s defense team from introducing his change of mind into evidence for the jury to consider, but in court on Wednesday, Bannon’s lawyers convinced Nichols to allow them to question Amerling on his recent correspondence with Costello about this.

Nichols told the jury that the July 9 letter indicating Bannon’s willingness to testify was to be used only as potential evidence of Bannon’s opinion on the subpoena delay and for no other purpose – Bannon said. Did he deliberately ignore the subpoena in October?

“Whether or not Mr. Bannon complies with the subpoena is irrelevant to whether or not he was in default in October,” Nichols told the 14-member commission. jury.

Amerling testified that the letters indicated that President Thompson was open to Bannon appearing for a deposition once the document requests were satisfied and later said that Thompson indicated that the earlier dismissal for contempt against Bannon stood. Bannon had yet to provide relevant documents, Amerling said, and still had not met the requirements of the original subpoena for his testimony.

Prosecutors also called FBI Special Agent Stephen Hart as a witness on Wednesday. He testified to Steve Bannon’s public comments about the subpoena. He detailed messages from Gettr that Bannon appeared to make that featured headlines indicating that Bannon would not comply with the committee’s demands.