Bannon Found Guilty of Contempt in Case Related to Capitol Riot Inquiry

Bannon Found Guilty of Contempt in Case Related to Capitol Riot Inquiry

WASHINGTON — Stephen K. Bannon, a former top adviser to President Donald J. Trump, was convicted on Friday of two counts of contempt of Congress, months after he had defied a subpoena to answer questions from the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.

The jury deliberated for less than three hours. The guilty verdict came after weeks of heated speeches by Mr. Bannon outside the federal courthouse in Washington, a lengthy jury selection process and a speedy trial that a judge had vowed to keep from becoming “a political circus.” It also arrived one day after video of Mr. Bannon briefly appeared in a public hearing of the House committee he had snubbed, as investigators played a clip of him saying that Mr. Trump had planned to declare victory in the 2020 election, no matter what the results were.

Although Mr. Bannon was found guilty of what amounted to a low-level process crime, his conviction was the first of a close aide to Mr. Trump to result from one of the chief investigations into the Capitol attack. Another former Trump adviser, Peter Navarro, has also been charged with contempt after defying a subpoena from the committee and is scheduled to go on trial in November.

Mr. Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, was indicted last November. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor crime, with each count punishable by a fine of up to $1,000 and a maximum of 12 months in prison. At the time, the filing of charges against him was widely seen as a litmus test for whether the Justice Department would take an aggressive stance against any of Mr. Trump’s top allies as the House seeks to develop a fuller picture of the actions of the former president and his inner circle before and during the attack.

Despite the legal wranglings that preceded his trial, Mr. Bannon’s guilt or innocence ultimately turned on a straightforward question: whether he had defied the House committee by flouting its subpoena. “This case is not complicated, but it is important,” Molly Gaston, a federal prosecutor, said in a closing statement on Friday.

Ms. Gaston told the jury that the House committee had wanted to ask Mr. Bannon about his presence at the Willard Hotel before the Capitol attack and about his statement the day before the assault that “all hell” was going to break loose on Jan. 6.

But, she argued, Mr. Bannon had blatantly disregarded the committee’s demands in order to protect his former boss.

“The defendant chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law,” Ms. Gaston said.

During his own summation, M. Evan Corcoran, one of Mr. Bannon’s lawyers, sought to argue that the subpoena his client had received had been improperly signed by the committee, adding for the jury that Mr. Bannon had not intentionally failed to comply with it. Mr. Corcoran also noted, trying to suggest a whiff of impropriety, that a prosecutor on the case and one of the government’s witnesses had belonged to the same book club.

Before court started on Friday, Mr. Bannon’s legal team made a written request to Judge Carl J. Nichols to ask the jurors if they had watched what the team described as the “highly inflammatory segment” of the Thursday night committee hearing that had featured Mr. Bannon. But Judge Nichols declined to poll the jurors.

Like many defendants, Mr. Bannon did not mount a defense case for the jury, deciding instead to rely on cross-examining the prosecution’s two witnesses: a lawyer for the committee and an F.B.I. agent who had worked on the case.

Last week, the lawyers suggested that Mr. Bannon might take the stand, but in the end he decided against testifying.

Testimony in the trial ended on Wednesday as the prosecution rested its case against Mr. Bannon, arguing that he had willfully ignored the subpoena for both records and testimony even after being warned that he could face criminal charges.

The proceeding came down to the simple fact that Mr. Bannon had “thumbed his nose” at the law, prosecutors said.

Mr. Bannon’s lawyers countered that the deadlines set by the committee to receive their client’s testimony and documents were flexible, one of the few lines of argument Judge Nichols had left open to the defense. In pretrial rulings, Judge Nichols had said that the lawyers were not allowed to argue to the jury that Mr. Bannon had received legal advice to disregard the subpoena or claim that Mr. Trump had personally authorized him to do so.

“Mr. Bannon has a full story for why he didn’t show up — his advice of counsel, the invocation of executive privilege, questions about its validity and so on,” David I. Schoen, another lawyer for Mr. Bannon argued in court this week, before the trial had begun. “All of these defenses and his story of the case have been barred by the court at the government’s request.”

With his options limited, Mr. Corcoran contended during the trial that the subpoena and the prosecution’s case itself were politically motivated.

Before the trial began, Mr. Bannon reversed course and offered to testify before the Jan. 6 committee. But prosecutors have portrayed that move as a last-ditch attempt to avoid the charges.

Judge Nichols also denied multiple requests from the defense to delay the trial, first stemming from concerns that the public hearings held by the Jan. 6 committee and continuous news coverage of the trial would taint the jury pool and later because the defense said it was unprepared to argue its case after the constraints Judge Nichols had placed on its potential arguments.

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Last Update: Fri, 22 Jul 22 15:28:06