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Steve Bannon found guilty in Jan. 6 contempt of Congress trial

"The defendant chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law," a Justice Department attorney told jurors.

WASHINGTON — A jury on Friday found former Donald Trump adviser Steve Bannon guilty on two counts of contempt of Congress for blowing off the House Jan. 6 committee.

The jury returned the verdict after deliberating for less than three hours in what prosecutors presented as a straightforward case.

“This case is not complicated, but it is important,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston told jurors during closing arguments on Friday. She argued that Bannon “did not want to recognize Congress’ authority” or play by the government’s rules.

Bannon’s sentencing is scheduled for Oct. 21 when he will face a mandatory minimum prison sentence of 30 days and up to one year behind bars. He could also be fined $100 to $100,000. He is expected to appeal.

Image:  Steve Bannon walks out of U.S. District Court in Washington on July 22, 2022.
Steve Bannon walks out of U.S. District Court in Washington on July 22, 2022.Frank Thorp V / NBC News

Jan. 6 committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., and Vice Chair Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., called Bannon's conviction "a victory for the rule of law and an important affirmation of the Select Committee’s work."

"As the prosecutor stated, Steve Bannon ‘chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law.’ Just as there must be accountability for all those responsible for the events of January 6th, anyone who obstructs our investigation into these matters should face consequences," they said in a joint statement.

U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia Matthew Graves said Friday that the committee's subpoena "was not an invitation that could be rejected or ignored."

“Mr. Bannon had an obligation to appear before the House Select Committee to give testimony and provide documents. His refusal to do so was deliberate and now a jury has found that he must pay the consequences," Graves said.

The Justice Department told jurors during the trial that Bannon didn’t turn over documents and testify before the Jan. 6 committee when he was required to do so in October 2021 because he thought he was “above the law.” The prosecution called two witnesses — a Jan. 6 committee staff member and a FBI special agent — and rested its case on Wednesday.

Bannon and his lawyers made clear Friday they planned to appeal, with attorney David Schoen describing the verdict as "round one" in a longer battle.

"You will see this case reversed on appeal. You will see all of these resources, three federal prosecutors, four FBI agents for a misdemeanor are being wasted," Schoen said. "You cannot find another crime in which, misdemeanor or felony, in which a person is convicted without believing or knowing or having reason to believe he or she did anything wrong."

Bannon, Gaston argued, “did not want to recognize Congress’ authority” or play by the government’s rules.

Bannon's team declined to put on a defense on Thursday. In closing arguments, Bannon lawyer Evan Corcoran questioned whether the committee’s subpoenas were actually signed by Thompson, and raised what he called “a serious question” about a witness’ participation in a book club.

Judge Carl Nichols repeatedly refused to delay Bannon's trial despite the defense team's contention that publicity from the Jan. 6 committee hearings would affect the jury pool and their contention that Bannon was barred from testifying due to Trump's purported claims of executive privilege. A jury was seated on Tuesday morning.

Although Bannon offered this month to testify before the committee as he sought to delay this week’s trial, the Justice Department dismissed his last-minute change of heart as “last-ditch attempt to avoid accountability.”

As Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn put it Friday, “That is like a child continuing to argue with their parent after they’re told they’re grounded. That kid knows they’re grounded, they can argue all they want, it doesn’t change the fact that the decision has been made.”

In closings, the government said that Congress had good reason to want to investigate what happened during the Jan. 6 attack, and how an attack like that could be prevented in the future.

“Our government only works if people show up. It only works if people play by the rules, and it only works if people are held accountable when they do not,” Gaston said.

Gaston said that the subpoena was not complicated and that Bannon chose not to cooperate. She cited Bannon's quote to the Daily Mail after he was issued the subpoenas.

"I stand with Trump and the Constitution," Bannon told the Daily Mail.

Gaston told jurors that the laws relating to contempt of Congress were strict for a reason and that Bannon knew that his executive privilege claim had been rejected.

“His belief that he had a good excuse not to comply does not matter,” Gaston said. "The defendant chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law."

Bannon "had contempt for Congress" and the name of the crime he is charged with tells you everything you need to know, Gaston said. The only person making this case political, she continued, is the defendant.

“There is nothing political about finding out why Jan. 6 happened, and how to make sure it never happens again," Gaston said.

Corcoran, in his own closing, told jurors that they needed to put Jan. 6 out of their minds when deliberating this case.

Earlier, he said that the senior committee staffer who testified to the jury wanted to make an example of Bannon because he had a popular podcast and because he was a former adviser to Trump.

Corcoran also raised the fact that the committee staffer and Gaston vaguely knew each other from a book club, although it was clear in court that they did not have a close personal relationship and hadn't crossed paths in years.

“Make no mistake, I’m not against book clubs,” he told the jury. But, he insisted while maintaining a straight face, “it’s a serious question."

Corcoran also brought up a recent letter from Trump about executive privilege, even though the committee had told Bannon's lawyer that the purported privilege claim was not an excuse not to show up to testify. In fact, many senior Trump White House officials testified before the committee and Bannon hasn't served in the White House since 2017.

"Prosecutors are basically saying that you have no choice, but you do have a choice," Corcoran told jurors.

On rebuttal, the government told jurors that they shouldn't wonder what they're missing in the case. “You’re not missing anything. This is not difficult. This is not hard. There were two witnesses because it’s as simple as it seems,” said Vaughn. “How much clearer could that subpoena have been?"

Bannon "yelled it from the mountain top" that he was not complying with the subpoenas, Vaughn said.

Bannon "thinks his authority as one man is greater than our government's, the one that we have all consented to," Vaughn said.

"That's the definition of contempt," Vaughn told jurors.

Bannon, hours after leaving the courthouse, attacked the committee on Fox News' "Tucker Carlson Tonight" and accused Democrats of defamation.