The simple issue the prosecutors wanted to make was clear in an opening statement and in the cross-examination of the first witness, a House select committee member, who kept her testimony at a very basic level.
Bannon’s team attempted to muddy these waters with hints of partisanship—both in the opening statement and in the fiery remarks Bannon made outside the courtroom after the proceedings.
In her opening statement, Attorney General Amanda Vaughn said Bannon was defying a government order requiring citizens to follow, telling the jury she must find that “the accused showed contempt for the United States Congress, and the United States government, and is guilty.” By not complying with the subpoena, Bannon “prevented the government from obtaining the critical information it needed from him.”
Speaking for about 20 minutes, Vaughn explained why the January 6, 2021 Mutiny Inquiry Committee had a right to obtain information from Bannon, and addressed how congressional committees conduct the research that makes up the laws enacted by Congress and why this committee was particularly interested in obtaining the information. from Bannon.
“Because it was a subpoena, Congress was entitled to the information it requested. It wasn’t optional. It wasn’t a request. It wasn’t an invitation. It was mandatory,” she said, noting that the committee rejected Bannon’s reasons for not cooperating.
The case the plaintiffs have indicated they will bring is, in some ways, the product of several pretrial rulings in their favour from U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols. He took away from the trial much of the evidence Bannon sought to provide — including most of the arguments about executive privilege. Instead, the Department of Justice only has to prove that Bannon made a deliberate and willful decision not to appear for required testimony or to submit required documents by established deadlines.
She portrayed the case as one “concerning an accused who blames his nose for the orderly operation of our government”.
“This is not a case of error,” she told the jury. “The defendant didn’t get the date wrong. He wasn’t confused about where he was going. He wasn’t stuck in a broken metro car. He just refused to follow the rules.”
Bannon’s team plays politics
A long morning of bitter legal wrangling from Bannon’s team led to a relatively short 15-minute opening statement from defense attorney Evan Corcoran – and a long public speech from Bannon later.
Corcoran’s opening statement was the first time the public and the court had heard Bannon’s entire team framing their defense, days after their protests. He explained to jurors that they might hear about some negotiations over Bannon’s subpoena, then hinted that partisanship was in full swing when the House select committee summoned his client.
Corcoran argued: “The evidence was crystal clear: Nobody, nobody thought Steve Bannon would appear on October 14, 2021.”
He also asked the jury to ask, as they see evidence such as Bannon’s subpoena and the contempt referral, “Is this evidence influenced by politics?”
“I challenge Benny Thompson today to have the courage to come into this courtroom,” Bannon said. “If he’s going to charge someone with a crime, he should be man enough to come here.”
Bannon’s team had previously attempted to subpoena several members of the House of Representatives to testify, but the judge would not allow it, removing one strategy his team had hoped to use. However, there is little chance that the judge may reconsider Bannon’s desire to call Thompson to testify, depending on how the employee’s testimony and the rest of the plaintiffs case proceed.
Direct testimony from committee staff
With the Department of Justice’s first witness at the stand to close the afternoon, testimony so far has been as clear as prosecutors can provide.
Did Bannon submit records before his October 7 subpoena deadline?
“He didn’t,” said Kristen Amerling, the commission’s deputy director of staff.
Did Bannon appear to testify as a subpoena wanted on October 14?
“He didn’t,” said Amirling again in the witness box.
The testimony highlighted how simple the Department of Justice sought to prove a jury’s case — including by putting the work of Congress into simple terms.
Amirling also laid out the standards for the House Committee and how it would operate. She spoke of fact-finding work that needs to be done urgently, because “the threat to our democratic institutions continues.” She described how the commission sought Bannon because of his contacts with Trump and others in Trump’s circles, including at the Willard Hotel prior to the January 6 riots — all details included in the committee’s public letter to Bannon accompanying the subpoena.
Amerling returns to testify on Wednesday morning.
The verdict may be issued before Thursday’s hearing at prime time
Much of the drama in Bannon’s trial was about its timing.
Will this trial be short and straightforward (as prosecutors expected) or long and more complex (as Bannon hopes)? Will she be delayed by a month or more, or can she head to deliberations before the prime-time selection committee hearing Thursday night?
Bannon has made several unsuccessful attempts to postpone this week’s trial, with his lawyer Tuesday morning requesting a month-long delay after a heated legal debate over what evidence can be presented in the case.
And Bannon’s team’s proposal to postpone the trial by just a few days has had no real effect. At one point, Nichols suggested they might need to wait until Wednesday to start the trial in earnest as both parties struggled to come up with a plan to deal with certain evidence. But in the end, this debate only cost proceedings a few hours, and the opening was able to kick off by mid-afternoon.
Only a handful of witnesses have been identified in both sides’ trial plans, meaning the proceedings are still on track and only take a few days. The question now is whether the jury will discuss Bannon’s accusations before the panel’s hearing on Thursday, January 6.