WASHINGTON — For weeks, Stephen K. Bannon, a former senior adviser to President Donald J. Trump, has given impassioned speeches about his ongoing trial, at one point promising to go “medieval” about the prosecutors who tried him. had accused of refusing to comply with a subpoena issued by the House Select Committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol.
But once in court he decided not to testify or mount any other kind of defense, and on Friday Mr Bannon was found guilty of two counts of contempt of Congress.
The jury’s verdict, delivered after less than three hours of deliberations, came a day after a video of Mr. Bannon briefly appeared at a House committee hearing that he had snubbed. Investigators released a clip of him saying Mr Trump had planned to declare victory in the 2020 election regardless of the results.
Mr Bannon remained defiant in his remarks outside the courthouse, saying the prosecution’s claim that he chose ‘allegiance to Donald Trump over respect for the law’ was correct, but omitted an important detail.
“I support Trump and the Constitution,” Bannon said. “I will never back down on this.”
Judge Carl J. Nichols set a sentencing date at the end of October, but David I. Schoen, an attorney for Mr. Bannon, said they would appeal the guilty verdict.
Mr Bannon’s sentencing was the latest twist in a tumultuous political career that over the years has seen him play a prominent role in bringing together right-wing media, presidential politics and American-style populism First. He helped found the Breitbart News website, which he described as a “platform for the alt-right”, a loosely affiliated collection of racists, misogynists and Islamophobes who rose to prominence at the time of Mr. Trump’s first campaign.
From 2016, Mr Bannon served as the campaign’s chief architect, helping Mr Trump craft his divisive populist message. He was brought to the White House after Mr Trump’s victory to work as the president’s strategist and senior adviser, but only lasted seven months before returning to Breitbart.
In August 2020, Mr Bannon was arrested on the $35million, 150ft yacht owned by one of his associates, runaway Chinese billionaire Guo Wengui. Federal prosecutors in New York have accused him of defrauding donors to a private fundraising effort called We Build the Wall, which was aimed at bolstering Mr Trump’s signature initiative along the Mexican border .
Mr. Trump eventually pardoned Mr. Bannon in his final hours in office.
After Mr. Trump lost in the 2020 election, Mr. Bannon once again came to his aid. He worked with Peter Navarro, a White House adviser, to devise a strategy to keep the president in office which they called the “Green Bay Sweep”. The plan called on Republican members of the House and Senate to block the Electoral College vote count on January 6, 2021, so that lawmakers in key swing states could decertify the voting results in their states and give Mr. Trump a victoire.
Mr. Bannon’s conviction was the first of a close aide to Mr. Trump to result from one of the major investigations into the attack on the Capitol. Mr. Navarro was also charged with contempt after defying a House committee subpoena and is due to stand trial in November.
Key revelations from the January 6 hearings
Mr. Bannon, who left the White House in 2017, was indicted last November. Contempt of Congress is a misdemeanor, with each count punishable by a fine and a maximum of 12 months in prison. At the time, the filing of charges against him was widely seen as evidence that the Justice Department could take an aggressive stance against some of Mr. Trump’s key 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 wrangling that preceded his trial, Mr. Bannon’s guilt or innocence ultimately hinged on a simple question: whether he had defied the House committee by ignoring his subpoena. “This case is not complicated, but it is important,” Molly Gaston, federal prosecutor, said in a closing statement Friday.
Ms. Gaston told the jury that the House committee wanted to question Mr. Bannon about his presence at the Willard Hotel before the attack on the Capitol, where plans to overturn the election were discussed, and about his statement the eve of the aggression that “all hell” was going to break loose on January 6th.
But, she argued, Mr Bannon had blatantly ignored the committee’s demands in order to protect his former boss.
At his own summons, Mr 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 to the jury that Mr Bannon had not intentionally failed to comply with this. Mr. Corcoran also noted, trying to suggest a whiff of impropriety, that a prosecutor handling the case and one of the government witnesses had belonged to the same book club.
Before the trial began on Friday, Mr Bannon’s legal team sent a written request to Judge Nichols asking the jurors if they had watched what the team described as the ‘highly inflammatory segment’ of the hearing of the prime-time committee Thursday that featured Mr. Bannon. But Judge Nichols declined to question the jurors.
Like many defendants, Mr. Bannon did not build a defense case for the jury, deciding instead to rely on the cross-examination of the two prosecution witnesses: a committee attorney and an FBI agent who had worked on the case.
Last week, lawyers suggested Mr Bannon could take the stand, but he ultimately decided not to give evidence.
Trial testimony ended on Wednesday as the prosecution closed its case against Mr Bannon, arguing he deliberately ignored the subpoena for records and testimony even after being warned he might do facing criminal charges.
The proceedings boiled down to the simple fact that Mr. Bannon had “thumbed his nose” at the law, prosecutors said.
Lawyers for Mr Bannon countered that the deadlines set by the committee to receive testimony and documents from their client were flexible, one of the few arguments that Judge Nichols had left open to the defence. In pre-trial rulings, Judge Nichols said lawyers were not allowed to argue to the jury that Mr. Bannon had received legal advice to ignore the subpoena or claim that Mr. Trump personally authorized it. to do it.
“Mr. Bannon has a full story as to why he didn’t show up – his legal advice, the invocation of executive privilege, questions about its validity, etc.,” Mr. Schoen said. , Mr Bannon’s lawyer, in court this week before the start of the trial “All of these defenses and his account of the case were barred by the court at the request of the government.”
With his options limited, Mr. Corcoran argued during the trial that the subpoena and the prosecution case itself were politically motivated.
Before the trial began, Mr. Bannon backtracked and offered to testify before the January 6 committee. But prosecutors described the move as a last-ditch attempt to avoid charges.
Judge Nichols also denied several defense requests to delay the trial, first because he feared the Jan. 6 committee’s public hearings and continued media coverage of the trial would taint the jury and more. late because the defense said they were unprepared. to argue his case after the restraints Judge Nichols had placed on his potential arguments.