Lawyers for right-wing firebrand Steve Bannon made clear at a court hearing Thursday that they intend to slow down, as much as possible, the criminal case against Bannon for failing to testify to the House January 6 select committee.
“We’ll have to learn exactly what was done to bring these charges,” said Evan Corcoran, an attorney for Bannon. He cited “complex constitutional issues at play,” including former President Donald Trump’s own lawsuit over records from his White House.
Prosecutors from the Justice Department countered that the cases is simple and want to move quickly. They say they have only 200 documents to use as evidence, which would be largely the correspondence Bannon had with lawyers for Trump, who told him not to testify, and with the House, which demanded his compliance.
In court Thursday, prosecutor Amanda Vaughn called Bannon’s case straightforward, about the failure to show up. She said the DOJ sought to move forward with turning evidence over to the defense quickly, and wanted to set a trial date.
Corcoran said his team wanted time to identify witnesses that could help Bannon’s defense. The attorney also said the defense team wanted more documents from the executive branch and Congress than prosecutors had collected so far – an assertion that drew some doubt from the judge, and may not be feasible for Bannon, as a private citizen, to collect.
“The key here is our ability to identify the documents and the witnesses to allow us to identify a defense for Mr. Bannon,” he said.
It was Bannon’s first appearance before US District Judge Carl Nichols, who will oversee his case and any potential trial for contempt of Congress, and the first time Bannon’s lawyers have laid out their strategy on timing of the case.
Also at the hearing, Nichols accepted Bannon’s plea of not guilty, setting in motion the path to trial.
In the coming months, Nichols will have the ability to control when a trial arrives – a key factor as the House Select Committee races against the countdown to the 2022 election to gather information about Trump’s election fraud push. So far, House members on the committee have moved quickly to hold Bannon in contempt and enlist the DOJ to prosecute the misdemeanor charges, with the hope that progress in a criminal case against the well-known Trump ally could pressure reluctant witnesses to comply with subpoenas.
Neither party will get what it wanted immediately.
Nichols said he wasn’t sure either side was correct regarding timing of a trial. The judge put in place dates in the coming weeks to move forward on some steps needed before a trial.
Both the defense team and prosecutors will discuss confidentiality in the case in the coming week, and are set to be back in court on December 7, when they’ll talk about a trial date again.
Delays in the courthouse from the January 6 investigation – which has an abnormally large number of criminal defendants being prosecuted – and from the Covid-19 pandemic could still delay a trial date somewhat.
Bannon’s team also signaled they want to air details about his standoff with the House in public, while prosecutors are seeking to put confidentiality protections on documents they give to his team.
“We’re just very concerned that there would be the withholding … or the keeping from public view” documents related to the case, Corcoran said.