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Trump letter allowed as evidence in ex-adviser Bannon’s trial

The judge in Steve Bannon’s trial on Wednesday let the defense inform jurors that Donald Trump this month gave the green light to his former presidential adviser to testify before the congressional committee probing last year’s U.S. Capitol attack after previously asking him not to cooperate. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols made the ruling – […]

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The judge in Steve Bannon’s trial on Wednesday let the defense inform jurors that Donald Trump this month gave the green light to his former presidential adviser to testify before the congressional committee probing last year’s U.S. Capitol attack after previously asking him not to cooperate. U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols made the ruling – a potential boost to Bannon’s defense – on the second day of testimony in the trial in federal court. Bannon, 68, has pleaded not guilty to two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress for defying the House of Representatives select committee’s subpoena for testimony and documents as part of its inquiry into the Jan. 6, 2021, rampage by Trump supporters.

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Kristin Amerling, a senior committee staff member, testified that Bannon disregarded deadlines to respond to its September 2021 subpoena, sought no extensions and offered an invalid rationale for his defiance. While Amerling did not specifically address an offer Bannon made this month to testify at a public hearing – a reversal announced shortly before the trial’s start date after refusing to do so last year – she told the jury “we always welcome relevant documents and testimony.”

During questioning by defense attorney Evan Corcoran, Amerling testified that if Bannon is interested in communicating with the committee, then “we would be interested in exploring that further.” After that remark, Corcoran asked the judge to let him introduce as evidence a July 9 letter from Trump to Bannon offering permission to testify and waiving any claim of executive privilege, a legal doctrine that can keep certain presidential communications confidential.

In refusing to comply with the committee’s subpoena, Bannon had cited Trump’s claim of executive privilege. The judge told jurors, however, that they cannot consider Bannon’s belief about executive privilege as an excuse, nor can they consider future offers of compliance as a defense to prior non-compliance.

Nichols also let Corcoran enter into evidence a letter by the committee’s Democratic chairman, Bennie Thompson, responding to Bannon’s 11th hour offer to testify. Thompson asked Bannon to first produce documents before a deposition could be scheduled. “Is Chairman Thompson indicating to Steve Bannon that he is open for a deposition at a future date, pursuant to the September 2021 subpoena?” Corcoran asked Amerling.

“He is indicating he is open to a deposition after Mr. Bannon has produced the requested documents,” Amerling replied. Nichols at one point admonished Corcoran for interrupting Amerling during his cross-examination after the prosecution completed its questioning.

The judge also warned Corcoran earlier without the jury present: “I do not intend for this to become a political case, a political circus.” Nichols made this remark after the prosecution complained about remarks Corcoran made to the jury on Tuesday suggesting the case was politically motivated. Amerling, the committee’s deputy staff director and general counsel, was the first witness called by the prosecution, starting on Tuesday and resuming on Wednesday. She said the panel set deadlines requiring an “expeditious response” because it had reason to believe Bannon had relevant information. Amerling said Bannon was identified as one of the people who attended a planning meeting at a Washington hotel the day before the riot.

Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol and attacked police in a failed effort to block formal congressional certification of his 2020 election loss to Democrat Joe Biden. Bannon was a key adviser to Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, then served as his chief White House strategist in 2017. Amerling said Bannon missed two key deadlines last October to provide documents and testimony and did not seek any extensions. That testimony could complicate Bannon’s defense. On Tuesday, Corcoran told jurors that Bannon believed the subpoena deadlines were not set in stone and that negotiations between his attorney and the committee would continue.

Corcoran on Wednesday pressed Amerling on what role Thompson played in drafting the subpoena and setting its deadlines – an apparent attempt to suggest political motivations. “What human set that deadline?” Corcoran asked Amerling.

She testified that deadlines were formulated by senior committee staff including her, but that the ultimate decision rested with Thompson, who possessed the legal authority to sign the subpoena.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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