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Steve Bannon’s offer to testify in the House January 6 inquiry might have backfired at his criminal trial

Steve Bannon

Amanda Andrade-Rhoades/For The Washington Post via Getty Image

  • Steve Bannon’s lawyers told jurors about his recent offer to testify in the House January 6 inquiry.
  • Prosecutors called the offer “sudden” and underscored that it cost the House panel precious time.
  • A lawyer for the House January 6 panel said Bannon still hasn’t turned over subpoenaed records.

After a string of rulings that severely limited his defense arguments, Steve Bannon scored a rare win Wednesday at his trial on contempt of Congress charges. Over the objection of prosecutors, a federal judge allowed him to raise his recent offer to testify before the House committee investigating the January 6, 2021 attack on the Capitol.

It was a setback to prosecutors, who argued that evidence of Bannon’s recent offer to testify was irrelevant and would create a “significant potential for confusion” that would last through the trial for jurors. But prosecutors appeared to have a plan to make Bannon’s offer to testify backfire against him after months of stonewalling the House committee.

Bannon’s defense lawyers raised the July 9 offer to testify in their questioning of Kristin Amerling, a top lawyer for the House January 6 committee, whom prosecutors called to recount the congressional panel’s dealings with the longtime Trump ally. The defense lawyers presented a recent letter from Rep. Bennie Thompson, chair of the House January 6 committee, saying the panel would “identify a date” for Bannon’s deposition once he turned over subpoenaed records.

“And, by this sentence, is Chairman Thompson indicating to Steven Bannon that he’s open for a deposition at a future date pursuant to the September 23, 2020 subpoena?” asked Bannon’s lawyer Evan Corcoran, referring to the original subpoena from the House January 6 committee.

“It’s indicating that he’s open to a deposition after Mr. Bannon has produced requested documents,” Amerling answered.

Bannon’s defense lawyers raised the offer to argue that the longtime Trump ally viewed his deadline to respond to the House committee as not fixed but “malleable.” But for prosecutors, the questioning created an opening to underscore their view that Bannon’s defiance cost the House committee precious time.

Calling Bannon’s recent offer to testify “sudden,” prosecutor Amanda Vaughn asked Amerling how much time the committee would have had to review information Bannon turned over and follow up on leads if he had complied with the subpoena.

“At least eight to nine months of additional time,” Amerling said, adding that the House committee is presently authorized to last for an additional five months, through the current Congress.

“And so, as opposed to 14 [months] in total, the committee now only has five,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn then asked whether Bannon’s offer to testify included an offer to turn over documents the House committee sought last year.

“It did not,” Amerling said.

“Has the defendant provided any documents since his sudden offer to comply on July 9?” Vaughn then asked.

“Not unless he’s provided some since I’ve been sitting here today,” Amerling said.

Bannon offered to testify after months of refusing to turn over records or sit for questioning under oath. He attributed the about-face to a letter from former President Donald Trump purporting to waive executive privilege.

Legal experts have disputed Bannon’s executive privilege, noting, in part, that he was years removed from his role in the Trump administration by the time of the Capitol attack and the weeks leading up to January 6. Regardless, legal experts said Bannon would still have needed to appear for questioning and invoke executive privilege on a question-by-question basis rather than snubbing the House committee entirely.

And ahead of trial, prosecutors revealed that Trump lawyer Justin Clark told the FBI that the former president had never invoked executive privilege over particular information or materials.

Through her questioning of Amerling, Vaughn emphasized Wednesday that Bannon did not offer to testify before the House committee after his indictment on criminal contempt of Congress charges. Nor, she said, did Bannon offer to testify after the Supreme Court in January rejected Trump’s bid to block the release of White House records to congressional investigators.

Vaughn asked if Bannon offered to comply with the subpoena the following February — or in March, April, May, or June. At the mention of each month, Amerling answered, “No.”

At the conclusion of her questioning, Vaughn asked when “in relation to this trial” Bannon reversed course and made his “sudden” offer to testify before the House committee.

Amerling said the offer came on July 9, but “I think it actually came into my email inbox a little after midnight on July 10.”

“How long before trial was that?” Vaughn asked.

“A matter of days,” Amerling said.

Following Amerling’s testimony, prosecutors called FBI Stephen Hart to the stand. Shortly before 5 pm, prosecutors rested their case.

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