Stephen Bannon says political bias at root of criminal contempt charges in closing arguments
Stephen K. Bannon’s defense team dug in on what it says is clear political bias motivating the government’s criminal contempt of Congress case against the former Trump adviser in its closing arguments Friday.
In remarks that drew multiple objections from the prosecution, Mr. Bannon’s lawyer, Evan Corcoran, homed in on the government’s key witness Kristin Amerling’s two-decade career as staff to Democrat lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
“The entire foundation of the government’s case rests on Ms. Amerling,” Mr. Corcoran told the jury. “You need to consider whether a witness has an interest in the outcome of the case.”
Mr. Bannon, 68, is on trial for criminal contempt of Congress after defying the Jan. 6 committee’s demands for documents and deposition in its probe of the Jan. 6, 2021, pro-Trump riot at the Capitol.
Mr. Bannon, who hosts the news and opinion broadcast “War Room: Pandemic,” insists the charges against him are politically motivated.
Mr. Corcoran accused Ms. Amerling, the Committee’s deputy staff director and chief counsel, of harboring deep-seated bias developed over her career that drove her to play hardball with Mr. Bannon over the subpoena and to ultimately pursue criminal charges.
Ms. Amerling argued that her motivations were not motivated by politics. The defense didn’t buy it.
“The thing about bias is that sometimes people become blind to it,” Mr. Corcoran said. “Ms. Amerling worked for 20 years for one political party in a political arena. Drop by drop it builds up.”
“Ms. Amerling may not be able to see how her work for one political party affects her,” he said. “But you’ve got to see it.”
Throughout the trial, Mr. Bannon has infused politics into the process to craft his argument.
The prosecution has objected to the defense’s attempts to paint the Committee’s motivations as political before the jury.
U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols vowed not to allow the trial to evolve into a “political circus” after Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn raised concerns over Mr. Corcoran’s opening arguments in which he said, “politics affects every decision” on Capitol Hill.
The warning from the judge, however, did not deter the defense from returning to what it says is an important element in the case.
On Wednesday, Mr. Corcoran elicited testimony from Ms. Amerling under cross-examination that she previously worked with Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston while on staff for former Rep. Henry Waxman, California Democrat, more than a decade ago.
Ms. Gaston is one of the two prosecutors on the Bannon case.
Since serving on Mr. Waxman’s staff, the two have participated in a book club whose members are mostly current and former Democratic staffers on Capitol Hill, Ms. Amerling testified.
Ms. Amerling said that throughout her two-decade career as a staffer on the Hill, she has worked for Democrat lawmakers and personally donated to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.
She downplayed the significance of her membership in the book club saying that she had not attended in over a year. She also said she does not maintain a friendship with Ms. Gaston despite being in the same book club.
“Make no mistake, I’m not against book clubs,” Mr. Corcoran said Friday during his closing arguments. “But why did Ms. Amerling try to downplay her relationship with the prosecutor?”
“If this issue involving the relationship with the prosecutor gives you pause, you must give Mr. Bannon the benefit of the doubt,” he said.
The prosecution pushed back in their rebuttal saying the focus on politics was a distraction.
“All I learned from that testimony is that Ms. Amerling and Ms. Gaston are book club dropouts,” Ms. Vaughn said.
The prosecution must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Bannon willfully failed to comply with a subpoena seeking pertinent information.
Ms. Vaughn argued that what is before the jury is a straightforward case of Mr. Bannon willfully refusing to comply with demands to turn over documents and testimony after receiving a subpoena from the committee.
The defense wants to make this hard, difficult, confusing,” she said. This is not difficult. He chose not to comply. He made a deliberate decision not to comply because he didn’t want to.”
“The defendant is not above the law,” she said. “He is not the decider of the law. He is guilty.”
The jury began deliberations just before noon Friday.