Bannon won’t testify as contempt trial appears headed for jury

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Former Trump White House adviser Steve Bannon will not call any witnesses in his contempt of Congress trial, his legal team said Thursday, likely sending the matter to the jury in the afternoon.

“The jury has now heard all of the evidence it will hear,” U.S. District Court Judge Carl Nichols declared shortly after Bannon’s attorney David Schoen said the defense was preparing to rest.

The announcement from Schoen came during court proceedings Thursday morning outside the presence of the jury. The defense attorney did not detail the reasons for Bannon electing not to present a case, but said he had thoroughly considered his right to do so and elected not to.

“Mr. Bannon won’t be testifying,” Schoen added.

Bannon’s team had suggested in pretrial motions that it could call his attorney, Robert Costello, as a witness but ultimately opted against it. Costello represented Bannon in his negotiations with the Jan. 6 select committee over a subpoena issued in September. Bannon defied the select committee’s demand to appear, leading the House to hold him in contempt in late October 2021. The Justice Department charged him with two counts of contempt of Congress three weeks later.

The select committee views Bannon as an important ally in Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. They sought his testimony in its first batch of subpoenas last year, requesting testimony and documents related to his conversations with Trump and foreshadowing of chaos on Jan. 6. Bannon is one of four witnesses the House has held in contempt. One of them, former Trump White House trade adviser Peter Navarro, was charged by the Justice Department last month. DOJ declined to charge the others, former Chief of Staff Mark Meadows and Trump social media chief Dan Scavino.

Bannon attorney Robert Costello told the committee that Bannon could not comply with the subpoena because Trump had asserted executive privilege over the testimony and documents the panel requested. But the panel rejected that claim and noted that Trump did not appear to have instructed Bannon to simply refuse to show up for a deposition that could have covered a wide variety of topics.

The defense witness list for the trial proved to be only slightly shorter than the prosecution’s. After opening arguments on Tuesday, the government called only two witnesses: House Jan. 6 select committee Chief Counsel Kristen Amerling and FBI Special agent Stephen Hart.

Amerling provided often dry, technical testimony about the logistical mechanics of the committee’s process for issuing subpoenas. She faced a smattering of defense questions about her career working for Democratic members of Congress and about her political donations. Amerling was also asked about her ties to a member of the prosecution team through a long-running book club.

Hart testified about posts on Bannon’s account on the social media site GETTR in which he appeared to be proudly touting his decision to defy the House subpoena. The FBI agent also discussed a meeting in which Costello unsuccessfully sought to persuade prosecutors not to bring criminal charges against Bannon.

Bannon, who appeared cheerful for much of the morning when he wasn’t transfixed by his phone, has spent each day of his trial delivering diatribes against the Jan. 6 select committee, an unusual posture for a criminal defendant. But neither prosecutors nor the judge publicly addressed his commentary, despite Nichols’ vow to prevent the trial from becoming a “political circus.”

Bannon faces up to a year in prison on each of the two misdemeanor contempt charges at issue in the case: one for failing to testify and another for failing to deliver any of the documents the committee demanded.

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