WASHINGTON (AP) — Steve Bannon, a longtime ally of former President Donald Trump, was convicted on Friday for defying a subpoena from Congress of the House of Representatives investigating the Jan. 6 riot in the U.S. Capitol. Committee chairs called the verdict “a victory for the rule of law.”
Bannon, 68, was convicted after a four-day trial in federal court on two counts: one of refusing to appear for testimony and the other of refusing to produce documents in response to the subpoena. The jury of 8 men and 4 women deliberated for almost three hours.
If he is sentenced on October 21, he faces up to two years in prison. Each charge carries a minimum sentence of 30 days in prison.
David Schoen, one of Bannon’s attorneys, said outside the courthouse that the verdict was not valid. “This is round one,” said Schoen. “You will see this case reversed on appeal.”
Likewise, Bannon himself said: “Perhaps we lost the battle here today; We will not lose this war.”
Thanking the jury for their service, he said he had only one disappointment — “and that’s the cowardly members of this show trial committee, the J-6 committee didn’t have the guts to come here and testify.”
Prosecutors were just as firm on the other side of the verdict.
“The subpoena to Stephen Bannon was not an invitation to be refused or ignored,” Matthew Graves, the US Attorney in Washington, said in a statement. “Mr Bannon was required to appear before the House Select Committee to testify and produce documents. His refusal to do so was deliberate and now a jury has found he must face the consequences.”
The committee sought Bannon’s testimony about his involvement in Trump’s efforts to overthrow the 2020 presidential election. Bannon initially argued that his testimony was protected by Trump’s claim to executive privilege. But the House panel and the Justice Department consider such a claim dubious, given that Trump fired Bannon from the White House in 2017, making Bannon a private citizen when he consulted with the then-President ahead of the January 6, 2021, riots.
Bannon’s attorneys tried to argue during the trial that he was not refusing to cooperate and that the data “was in flux.” They pointed out that shortly before the trial began — after Trump waived his objection — Bannon changed course and offered to testify before the committee.
In the closing arguments on Friday morning, both sides again emphasized their main positions from the process. Prosecutors contended that Bannon willfully ignored clear and explicit time limits, and the defense contended that Bannon believed those time limits were flexible and subject to negotiation.
Bannon was served with a subpoena on September 23 last year, requiring him to provide the committee with the requested documents by October 7 and to appear in person by October 14. Bannon was indicted on two counts of criminal contempt of Congress in November, a month after the Justice Department received the House referral.
Bannon’s attorney Evan Corcoran told jurors in his closing arguments Friday that those deadlines were “placeholders” while attorneys on both sides negotiated terms.
Corcoran said the committee “passed judgment” because it “wanted to make an example of Steve Bannon.”
Corcoran also indicated that the government’s key witness, chief counsel for the Jan. 6 committee, Kristin Amerling, was personally biased. Amerling admitted on the witness stand that she was a lifelong Democrat and had been friends with one of the prosecutors for years.
Jan. 6 committee chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss, was a particular target for Bannon and his defense team. His name was mentioned several times during the trial, although US District Judge Carl Nichols had warned the defense against claiming in court that the committee itself was politically biased. Bannon criticized Thompson by name in his daily statements outside the courthouse, once implying that Thompson’s COVID-19 diagnosis was falsified last week to avoid pressure to appear.
Thompson and committee vice chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., welcomed the ruling in a statement, calling it “a victory for the rule of law and an important endorsement of the select committee’s work.”
“Just as everyone responsible for the events of January 6 must be held accountable, so anyone who obstructs our investigation into these matters should face consequences,” they said. “No one is above the law.”
Prosecutors focused on the series of letters exchanged between the January 6 committee and Bannon’s attorneys. The correspondence shows that Thompson immediately dismissed Bannon’s claim that he had been exempted from Trump’s claim to executive privilege and specifically threatened Bannon with criminal prosecution.
“The defense wants to make it tough, difficult and confusing,” Assistant US Attorney Amanda Vaughn said in her closing statement. “It’s not difficult. That’s not hard. There were only two witnesses because it is as simple as it seems.”
The defense requested an acquittal Thursday, saying prosecutors had failed to prove their case. In his motion for acquittal before Judge Nichols, Bannon’s attorney Corcoran said that “no reasonable juror could conclude that Mr. Bannon refused to comply.”
Once the motion was filed, the defense dropped their case without calling any witnesses, telling Nichols that Bannon saw no point in testifying because the judge’s previous rulings had eroded his planned defense capabilities. Among other things, Bannon’s team was barred from claiming that Bannon believed he was shielded by executive privilege or from calling House Speaker Nancy Pelosi or members of the House panel as witnesses.
Associated Press reporters Michael Balsamo and Gary Fields contributed to this report.
Follow AP’s coverage of the Jan. 6 committee hearings at https://apnews.com/hub/capitol-siege