- A jury needed just three hours to find Steve Bannon guilty of contempt of Congress.
- Bannon tried to point to his recent offer to testify before the House January 6 committee.
- Prosecutors argued that Bannon saw himself as “above the law” and brazenly defied the House.
Steve Bannon was found guilty Friday of criminal contempt of Congress in connection with his defiance of the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the Capitol.
A jury in Washington, DC, reached the verdict after nearly three hours of deliberation, handing the Justice Department a decisive victory in a case stemming from a House referral recommending that the longtime Trump ally and onetime White House chief strategist face charges. Another onetime Trump advisor, Peter Navarro, is set to stand trial in November on similar charges connected to the House inquiry into January 6 and former President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.
Bannon declined to testify in his own defense or call any witnesses to the stand. But he emerged from court after each day of the proceedings to address reporters and rail against the House January 6 committee, at one point accusing its members of lacking the “guts” to testify against him at the trial.
As he left court Friday, Bannon pledged to appeal the conviction, declaring he had lost the “battle” but not the “war.”
“I only have one disappointment, and that is the gutless members of that show trial committee — the J6 committee — didn’t have the guts to come down here and testify in open court,” Bannon said Friday.
Bannon is set to return to court for sentencing on October 21.
Matt Graves, the Biden-appointed US attorney in Washington, DC, hailed the verdict and said Bannon’s subpoena from the House was “not an invitation that could be rejected or ignored.”
“Mr. Bannon had an obligation to appear before the House Select Committee to give testimony and provide documents,” Graves said. “His refusal to do so was deliberate and now a jury has found that he must pay the consequences.”
The House voted in October to hold Bannon in contempt for refusing to sit for questioning or turn over documents to the nine-member committee investigating the January 6 attack. Within weeks of that vote referring Bannon to the Justice Department for prosecution, a grand jury indicted Bannon on a pair of contempt of Congress charges, each carrying a maximum sentence of a year in prison and a $100,000 fine.
The jury of eight men and four women found Bannon guilty on each of those two counts.
Ahead of Bannon’s trial, a federal judge made a series of rulings that severely limited his defenses, preventing the former Trump White House advisor from arguing that executive privilege excused his outright refusal to appear before the House committee. Judge Carl Nichols, a Trump appointee confirmed in 2019, also blocked Bannon from arguing that he defied the House committee based on his lawyer’s advice.
Prosecutors argued that Bannon “decided he was above the law” and brazenly snubbed the House committee” when he blew off October deadlines to sit for questioning and turn over subpoenaed records. In a closing argument Friday, assistant US attorney Molly Gaston pointed at Bannon and said, “This is a simple case about a man — that man, Steve Bannon — who didn’t show up.”
Later, Gaston pointed to Bannon declaring, “I stand with Trump,” in October 2021 after receiving a House subpoena.
“The defendant chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” Gaston said.
Bannon’s defense lawyer Evan Corcoran flatly declared the Trump ally was “innocent” and argued that the contempt charges were fueled by politics. In a closing argument that drew multiple objections from Gaston, Corcoran recalled listening to the news about foreign countries where “people in power” attempt to “silence the opposition.”
Corcoran urged jurors to uphold what he called an essential principle of criminal prosecutions in the US: that “politics can play no role.”
Going into the trial, Bannon appeared to face long odds, and his lawyers made a point of preserving the chance to appeal several rulings. Bannon’s lawyer David Schoen argued that the defense team was “badly stymied” by its inability, based on a past ruling from Nichols, to call members of the House January 6 committee, namely its chair, Rep. Benny Thompson.
While the defense team felt handcuffed by the pre-trial rulings, Nichols allowed them to raise Bannon’s recent offer to testify before the House committee after months of stonewalling. Bannon attributed his reversal to a letter from Trump, received about a week before trial, purporting to waive executive privilege.
In a rebuttal to Corcoran’s closing argument, prosecutor Amanda Vaughn told jurors that Bannon’s sudden decision to testify was designed to “convince you that a deadline is not a deadline.”
“Give me a break,” Vaughn told jurors. “Don’t be fooled by that.”
Vaughn described Bannon’s offer as “nothing but a ploy” — and “not even a good one” because he still had not agreed to turn over documents.
Prosecutors objected ahead of trial to Bannon raising his offer to testify, which they had described in pre-trial court filings as a “last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability.” But at trial, they appeared to see an opening to make Bannon’s offer to testify backfire against him.
In her questioning of Kristin Amerling, a top lawyer for the House January 6 committee, Vaughn underlined that the offer to testify came just before Bannon was set to stand trial. And, with the end of the current Congress approaching, Amerling said Bannon’s months of defiance had cost the House January 6 committee precious time in its investigation of the Capitol attack and buildup to January 6.
Amerling testified that the House January 6 committee took an interest in Bannon, in part, because he predicted on his podcast a day before January 6 that “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow.”
Corcoran questioned Amerling’s impartiality in his closing argument, telling jurors that she has worked for Democratic members of Congress for 20 years.
“Does she seem like somebody who’s used to getting their way?” Corcoran asked. “Why was Steve Bannon singled out?”
Corcoran also called attention to how Gaston and Amerling overlapped on a House committee years ago and were part of the same book club.
“Make no mistake,” Corcoran said. I’m not against book club.
Addressing that portion of Corcoran’s closing, Vaughn questioned whether he had understood Amerling’s testimony.
“I don’t know what courtroom Mr. Corcoran was in,” she said. “But all I learned from that testimony is that Ms. Amerling and Ms. Gaston are book club dropouts.”