Steve Bannon’s team will not present a defense to the jury

(Illustrated by Bill Hennessy)
(Illustrated by Bill Hennessy)

Prosecutors rested their case against Steve Bannon yesterday, after maintaining an approach to keeping matters simple and straight to the jury.

To present evidence that Bannon, a former adviser to former President Donald Trump, was in contempt of Congress for failing to comply with a House subpoena on Jan. 3. 6 investigation, the Ministry of Justice placed only two witnesses on the podium.

By questioning House committee employee Kristen Amerling, prosecutors directed the jury through the paper trail of documents that informed Bannon that October deadlines were for him to file documents and sit down to testify. Bannon’s team henceforth realized what they could – including his recent offer to testify before the committee – to try to suggest that Bannon had reason to believe the deadline was not fixed, while also hinting at supposed bias against him.

Here are four takeaways on the third day of the proceedings and the second day of the testimony:

Relay of papers strengthens the plaintiffs’ case against Bannon

The pace of Wednesday’s testimony depended largely on messages between the House select committee investigating Jan. 3. 6 Tamarod and Bannon.

Many of the defenses Bannon might attempt to make were undermined by the paper trail of documents the commission sent him regarding his subpoena, and the prosecution was able to show these documents through its cross-examination of Emerling.

The documents showed Bannon being warned that failure to comply with the subpoena risked a criminal referral. They showed that the commission rejected his allegations that Trump’s assertions of executive privilege prevented him from cooperating. They showed that the committee had reaffirmed the subpoena deadlines and lawmakers’ expectations that he would comply by then.

Amerling was also questioned about the responses the commission received from Bannon’s lawyer. She testified that Bannon never asked for the deadlines to be changed, nor did he provide the commission with reasons in the commission’s view that would help justify his non-compliance, such as his failure to understand the subpoena’s directions.

Bannon’s team says the committee gave him flexibility

After a series of rulings that limited his defenses, Bannon finally secured possession in his favour, with District Judge Carl Nichols on Wednesday giving his team the approval to accept his attorneys and Trump’s recent letters to a panel exonerating him for testifying. With the ruling, they also acknowledged a previously unreported letter, Letters Committee Chairman Benny Thompson sent last week in response to Bannon’s offer to testify to the panel.

The Bannon team didn’t have much to work with on this experience. So the ability to use the letters in their interrogation of Emerling was a rare opportunity for them to expand Bannon’s defense — and allowed the subject of executive privilege to comment on the case more than the Justice Department intended. Bannon’s team was seeking to use the correspondence to advance the case that Bannon had reason to believe that the October return dates were not a hard deadline but rather flexible inflection points in the process of negotiating Bannon’s cooperation.

In his question about Amerling, Corcoran specifically referred to Thompson’s indication that she would host Bannon to testify.

Bannon’s team hopes the jury will see that as evidence that, even when the subpoenas have return dates, the process was open and that Bannon had reason to believe that when he passed October deadlines, his cooperation at a later date would be acceptable to the panel. (The judge instructed jurors that any future compliance by Bannon with the subpoena was not relevant to whether he had defaulted in the past year.)

The trial session with the jury can be pictured on Thursday

The Justice Department quickly concluded its case Wednesday with a short set of questions for its second witness, FBI agent Stephen Hart, who read public statements from Bannon saying he would stand with Donald Trump and links on his social media accounts to stories describing him. For failure to comply with the commission, even after one summons deadline has passed.

Now the question will be how many witnesses, if any, the defense team contacts to assist in Bannon’s case. If they don’t claim anything — and Bannon doesn’t testify, the case could head to afternoon jury deliberations.

One defense strategy: summon the Democrats

Wednesday’s proceedings began with a discussion between lawyers and a judge over whether the case would be a political circus. Judge Carl Nichols said he wouldn’t let that be.

However, within hours of Defense attorney Evan Corcoran’s questioning of Amirling, he repeatedly questioned her policy. The questions attempted to show the Washington, DC, jury and committee that they and the Democratic-leaning panel may have unfairly chosen Bannon from among thousands of witnesses.

Corcoran was able to ask Amirling, a Hill veteran of two decades, about the parties of lawmakers she worked with and about her political contributions. Her previous presence at a book club alongside the prosecutor on the case turned into a series of vital questions. But when Bannon’s lawyers turned to questions about the larger political dynamics of the House of Representatives and the committee’s actions, the judge largely forbade them from going there.

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