Steve Bannon, the former senior adviser to Donald Trump and the man widely credited with getting him elected, considered he was “above the law”, a criminal trial has been told.
A jury in Washington DC was told that Mr Bannon, the one-time conservative media executive who led Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign, bagged a White House job and retained outsize influence once he left, decided to defy a congressional subpoena because he thought he could “thumb his nose” at the request.
“This is not a case of mistake,” said federal prosecutor Amanda Vaughn. “The defendant didn’t get the date wrong. He didn’t get confused on where to go. He didn’t get stuck on a broken down metro car. He just refused to follow the rules.”
She added: “This case is about the defendant thumbing his nose at the orderly process of our government.”
The court was told that Mr Bannon, 68, had refused to comply with a request to provide information to the committee of the House of Representatives which is investigating the Jan 6 attack on the US Capitol, and the circumstances leading up to it.
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Several other associates of Mr Trump have pushed back at requests to appear, including some elected members of Congress.
Mr Bannon is one of a handful of those who decided not to appear, who then allegedly ignored a subpoena. As a result, he now faces two misdemeanor counts of contempt of Congress. He has denied the charges.
Ms Vaughn said the subpoena “was not optional”.
“It wasn’t a request. And it wasn’t an invitation. It was mandatory,” she said. “The defendant decided he was above the law. That’s why we’re here today.”
Though Mr Bannon left the White House after just six months, after an apparent falling out with the then president, he retained an influential place in conservative circles.
And after Mr Trump sought in 2020 to win reelection, only to lose to Joe Biden, Mr Bannon is said to have been one of those who the president continued to speak to.
The House committee has revealed that on Jan 5 2021, a day before hundreds of Mr Trump’s supporters stormed the US Capitol in an attempt to prevent the certification of Mr Biden’s victory, he twice spoke by phone with Mr Bannon.
That night Mr Bannon told listeners of a right-wing talk show that the next day would be more than eventful.
“All hell is going to break loose tomorrow,” Mr Bannon said. “It’s all converging, and now we’re on, as they say, the point of attack.”
On Tuesday, Mr Bannon’s lawyers said the charges against him were politically motivated and that he had been engaged in good-faith negotiations with the congressional committee when he was charged.
“No one ignored the subpoena,” defence lawyer Evan Corcoran told the jury.
In reality, he said, another one of Bannon’s then-lawyers, Robert Costello, contacted an attorney for the House committee to express some of Mr Bannon’s concerns about testifying.
“They did what two lawyers do. They negotiated,” Mr Corcoran said, adding that Mr Bannon and his legal team believed “the dates of the subpoena were not fixed”.
Mr Bannon, dressed in a black suit jacket and wearing a black mask, had previously suggested he was not required to appear before the committee because of so-called “executive privilege”.
Yet US District Judge Carl Nichols, who is presiding, has previously said Mr Bannon may not claim he failed to comply with the subpoena because he believed his documents and testimony were protected by a such privilege.
The trial continues.
Additional reporting by agencies