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Steve Bannon, Trump's former adviser, was found guilty in contempt of Congress trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Steve Bannon has been found guilty of criminal contempt of Congress. That's the verdict handed down today by a federal jury in Washington, D.C.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been at the courthouse covering the trial, and he's here in the studio. Hi, Ryan.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: Tell us what this case was about.

LUCAS: So Bannon was charged with two counts of criminal contempt of Congress for defying a subpoena from the House committee that's investigating the January 6 attack on the Capitol. One of the counts was for his refusal to provide documents in response to the subpoena, and the second count was for failing to appear for a deposition. The government had to prove in this case that Bannon's failure to comply with the subpoena was deliberate, that it was intentional. And prosecutors made that case. After less than three hours of deliberation, the jury of eight men and four women came back with a guilty verdict on both counts.

SHAPIRO: How'd the government make its case against Bannon?

LUCAS: Well, this was a quick trial. Opening statements began on Tuesday. Closing arguments were this morning. The government put on two witnesses, a January 6 committee staffer and an FBI special agent. And prosecutors repeatedly emphasized to the jury that this was not a complicated case. It was really pretty simple. Bannon got a subpoena from the House committee for documents and testimony, as I said. Prosecutors showed the jury the subpoena that had dates that Bannon was ordered to provide records and to testify. The deadline came and went. And he never handed over a single document. He never showed up to testify.

Prosecutors presented evidence that Bannon was warned that he faced possible criminal prosecution for this defiance. He still didn't comply. They said that that was deliberate. It was intentional. They said he put himself above the law. And in her closing argument, Assistant U.S. Attorney Molly Gaston said that Bannon chose allegiance to Donald Trump over compliance with the law.

SHAPIRO: What was his defense?

LUCAS: Well, Bannon had promised that this would be a misdemeanor from hell, as he put it, for the government. At one point, he talked about going medieval on his opponents. But when it came to trial, Bannon's attorneys didn't put on a defense. He didn't call any witnesses. Bannon himself did not testify. Instead, his attorneys tried to poke holes in the government's case only on cross-examination. They tried to suggest that the prosecution was biased, that it was politically motivated. They tried to argue that Bannon's attorney was negotiating with the committee, that the subpoenaed dates were flexible.

Bannon didn't show much of a reaction when the verdict was announced today, but he did speak outside the courthouse afterwards. He thanked the jury, and he had this to say.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

STEVE BANNON: We may have lost the battle here today, but we're not going to lose this war. In the closing argument, the prosecutor missed one very important phrase, all right? I stand with Trump and the Constitution, and I will never back off that - ever.

LUCAS: Bannon was asked about that misdemeanor from hell comment that he made after he was charged. His attorney, David Schoen, cut in and said, look, this trial was just round one. They will appeal this verdict. And Schoen pointed out that the judge in this case, Carl Nichols, had disagreed with legal precedent that cut off some of Bannon's trial defenses. Schoen argued that in his view, they have a strong case on appeal here.

SHAPIRO: And what does this guilty verdict mean for the January 6 committee, which issued the subpoenas that were at the center of this trial?

LUCAS: Right. Well, the committee chairman and vice chair called this verdict a victory for the rule of law and accountability and the committee's work. But this criminal prosecution does nothing to compel Bannon's testimony or hand over documents. This is about punishment for his defiance of the subpoena. That's it. And while Bannon offered a week before his trial was set to begin to testify before the committee, he didn't offer to turn over documents. Prosecutors say he still has not turned over documents.

As I said earlier, Bannon clearly plans to appeal this verdict. At this point, though, of course, he has been convicted by a jury. He faces up to one year in prison for each count. And the judge today set his sentencing for October 21.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas covering the very quick trial of Steve Bannon. Thanks, Ryan.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ryan Lucas covers the Justice Department for NPR.
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