Prosecution in start of Bannon trial makes clear 'hell was going to break loose' at center of case

Prosecutors say the trial should be finished before the weekend.

Updated: July 20, 2022 - 7:33am

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

The contempt of Congress trial for Steve Bannon began Tuesday with opposing sides making their respective opening arguments about why – or why not – the former Trump White House adviser should be federal court over subpoenas from the Democrat-led Jan. 6 committee. 

Defense lawyers questioned why Bannon was being charged with contempt for failing to comply with subpoenas while he was still negotiating with the House committee that issued them.

Their argument essentially focused on the dates of the subpoenas — related to the committee's probe into the Jan. 6, 2021 Capitol riot and Bannon's possible involvement — and whether the subpoenas had been finalized.

"No one ignored the subpoena," defense attorney Evan Corcoran said. "Quite the contrary, there was direct engagement" with the committee.

Corcoran also argued the committee was driven by "politics," which is why it sought Bannon's testimony.

Prosecutors largely set out the timeline of events and argued Bannon in fact refused to comply with the subpoenas and continued to try to assert executive privilege, even after being told that such a move was not valid.

"This case is about the defendant thumbing his nose at the orderly process of our government," Assistant U.S. Attorney Amanda Vaughn told jurors. "It is that simple. Congress was entitled [to the information]. ... He chose to show his contempt for Congress and its processes."

They also called the trial's first witness, Kristin Amerling, the deputy staff director of the committee, who made clear why Bannon is of such interest to the committee and the argument for why he should be in court, namely that prior to the riot he made such comments as "all hell was going to break loose," suggesting, she said, he had "some advance knowledge of the events of Jan. 6."

She also attempted to explain why Bannon faces two contempt charges in connection with refusing to comply with the subpoenas.

"We have a limited amount of time in which to gather information," Amerling said. "The committee's authority expires at the end of this year."

The prosecution will resume its questioning of Amerling on Wednesday morning. 

On Tuesday morning, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols seated 12 jurors and two alternates from a preliminary pool of 22 in the case being tried in Washington, D.C.

The trial is under way after Bannon's failed bid last week to have it delayed.

Prosecutors say that the trial should be finished before the weekend, Politico reported.

Bannon was indicted in November 2021 on two charges of contempt of Congress, after he defied subpoenas — citing executive privilege concerns — from House Democrats' Jan. 6 committee.

Bannon has vowed to make the case the "misdemeanor from hell" for both the Justice Department and the White House. He also pledged to punish Democrats for pushing to prosecute him. 

Former President Donald Trump earlier this month said he would waive executive privilege to allow Bannon to testify to the committee.