Former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s new willingness to testify before a special House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol attack was described by federal prosecutors Monday as a stunt by the former Trump aide a week before his trial on criminal contempt for defying a committee subpoena.
“His actions are little more than an attempt to change the optics of his contempt on the eve of trial, not an actual effort at compliance,” prosecutors said in court documents. “The Defendant’s timing suggest that the only thing that has really changed since he refused to comply with the subpoena…is that he is finally about to face the consequences of his decision to default.”
Bannon is set to stand trial July 18 on two counts of contempt involving his refusal to appear for a deposition and another involving his refusal to produce documents, despite a subpoena from the House committee.
Bannon had threatened to turn the case into the “misdemeanor from hell” for the Justice Department and congressional Democrats.
Each count carries a minimum of 30 days and a maximum of one year in jail, as well as a fine of $100 to $1,000.
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Prosecutors Monday argued during a pre-trial hearing that Bannon’s decision to testify should have no bearing on the existing contempt case and asked that his request to delay the trial be denied.
“The offense was completed at the time that he (Bannon) willfully defied” the subpoena, the government asserted.
Bannon did not appear at Monday’s court hearing.
Bannon, who was in contact with former President Donald Trump in the days leading up to the riot on Jan. 6, 2021, refused to comply with a subpoena issued last fall, claiming executive privilege from Trump. Both the committee and full House voted to hold him in contempt of Congress.
Trump’s claims of executive privilege have been rejected by federal courts so far. He lost a lawsuit to block the committee from access to his administration’s documents from the National Archives.
A U.S. district court and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit each ruled that President Joe Biden’s waiver of executive privilege for materials sought by the investigation outweighed Trump’s claim.
The Supreme Court refused to hear Trump’s appeal, writing in an unsigned opinion Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were still president.
“Because the Court of Appeals concluded that President Trump’s claims would have failed even if he were the incumbent, his status as a former President necessarily made no difference to the court’s decision,” the court added.
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Overnight Sunday, however, the committee received a letter from Bannon’s lawyer stating he would testify, noting that Trump had released him from the privilege claim.
“Mr. Bannon was obligated to honor the President’s invocation (of executive privilege), unless and until, either your Committee reached a constitutionally required accommodation with President Trump as to the invocation of executive privilege or your Committee obtained a ruling from the Federal District Court that the invocation of executive privilege was improper or did not apply to the particular question or document sought,” attorney Robert Costello wrote.
“While Mr. Bannon has been steadfast in his convictions, circumstances have now changed.”
Costello referred to a separate letter from Trump in which the former president waived the privilege claim.
“If you reach an agreement on a time and place for your testimony, I will waive executive privilege for you, which will allow for you to in and testify truthfully and fairly as per the request of the Unselect Committee of political Thugs and Hacks,” Trump wrote in the letter.
In court documents Monday, prosecutors revealed that the FBI had conducted an interview last month with Trump attorney Justin Clark in which the lawyer said that Trump had never invoked the privilege.
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On Sunday, Rep. Jaime Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House investigating committee, said Bannon was likely motivated by recent damning testimony detailing the president’s conduct on Jan. 6, 2021 and in the days prior to the insurrection.
“If he wants to come in, I’m certain that the committee would be very interested in hearing from him,” Raskin told CBS.